Friday, January 25, 2008


Watch Your Hands!

So now we know why the young must be protected from vulgarities and from sexual scenes, because with vivid imagination, they could probably be quick to jump to conclusions, being unable to grasp and fully understand the situation at hand, nor the gravity of their actions, especially when they're shooting from the hip.

Initially, I thought I would be able to watch Atonement if I had managed to make my way to Tokyo for its International Film Festival last October. But I didn't, and I waited, and waited, and when I finally managed to watch it this evening, I felt that it didn't work for me, no matter how much I can identify with the longing to be with someone, and being unable to. It contained themes I very much like, but perhaps I'm beginning to get tired of it, since they are somewhat negative emotions that do take their toil over a period of time.

Set in the 30s England just before the outbreak of WWII, we get introduced to the rather aristocratic Tallis family, where we witness the budding start of a romance between Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and the housekeeper's son Robbie (James McAvoy), with the help of flimsy, wet lingerie to bridge the divide separating their swearing of true feelings for each other. However, to sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan, who clinched an Oscar Nomination), she starts to see a different side of it, made worse by a misunderstanding and in actuality, a mistake Robbie made when he handed over a letter written with tongue in cheek and brain in the gutter (yep, you can say men think about sex most of the time).

And that one single day had everything a loving couple could have wished for - the discovery and declaration of love, the passionate love making, but only for everything to come crashing to a halt when Robbie gets accused for a crime he did not commit. And you can feel the disappointment and anger of course, at the accusation because it was somewhat steeped in presumptions of class or the lack thereof, and the hypocrisy, coupled with seething rage as we the audience, with knowledge of hindsight (and the benefit of just knowing), can tell that it's so utterly wrong, with obvious clues of course to who the perpetrator might be.

While we love to see the lovebirds coming together, the movie's more about the time they spend apart. And that unfortunately somehow sagged the movie to low depths, as we see them spend their screen time independently, with McAvoy brooding over his life now in disarray as he volunteers for war to escape from the confines of a prison cell, and Knightley unfortunately becoming relegated to a support role, which you can hardly feel her character, her pain, and her love for the man now so far away. It is hardly any wonder why both actors missed out on Oscar nominations (not that it mattered), because their roles hardly challenged what these 2 actors could have delivered. The scene stealer turned out to be child actress Saoirse Ronan, who is the cause of the turn of events, though the mantle of her character get passed to Ramola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave.

What made Atonement work though was the technical side of it. The score was excellent and director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, also starring Keira Knightley) made sure it gelled so well with the visuals, that it becomes an extension to what's on screen. You can't deny that art direction and cinematography were superb. Editing was non-conventional, but never confusing, offering you both what is perceived truth, and hindsight knowledge, just as how Briony would have experienced it. But what's missing, for a romance at least, and the danger of having every technical aspect delivered so clinically, was the absence of an emotional resonance, because without it, a romance movie can be pretty empty, and soulless, going through the motions without attempting to allow you to crawl under their skins to empathize with them and their sorry plight.

I had looked forward to Atonement with so much anticipation, that I guess when I've finally seen it, my expectation got deflated so bad that it turned out to be anti-climatic for me, even with an ending that should have wowed and kept one thinking and discussing about the unfortunate futility of one's actions, set in stone, setting the wheel in motion, and being unable ever to be turning it back.

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