Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Girl with Green Eyes

I just watched this because the director, Des Davies is the friend of a friend (actress Billie Whitelaw), and he was kind enough to loan me his copy. What follows is taken form my letter to Des. (It was rather difficult to write what amounted to a critique of a work meant for the person who made it!—a first for me—not so much because I had to hold back, but because it’s tricky to find the right tone.) The film is from 1963 and stars Peter Finch, Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave (Vanessa’s sister).

It’s a lovely little movie, and quite remarkable in its way. It holds up considerably better than many of the (more renowned) British films of the period—Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, Charlie Bubbles, etc—some of which are considered classics. It seems a shame it is so little known today. I don’t know the source work by Edna O’Brien, but it didn’t surprise me to learn it came from a novel. I was pleasantly struck almost at once by the film’s dialogue, which seemed unusually realistic and insightful (especially for the period). Something I also found refreshing about the film was its frank presentation of the sexual relationship, the succinct way in which it depicted the mundane pitfalls of romantic love. This is one of my favorite subjects as a writer, and one that all-too rarely gets serious treatment, in movies of any period. I must confess to finding Rita Tushingham less than endearing, however, even a wee bit creepy. This may sound terribly superficial, but I kept wondering if it was intentional (on at least one occasion, you seemed to shoot her deliberately to accentuate that nose!). If it wasn’t intentional, were you aware of it? Because of it, I found I didn’t quite warm to Kate as much as I would have liked, hence was less moved by the film than I would have been, perhaps, with another actress.

What I especially liked about the film, or rather what most impressed me, was the lightness of your touch as a director, the way in which you managed to experiment with style without losing sight of content, i.e., the basic business of telling the story and presenting the characters (who really came to life in a way film characters rarely do). Your style reminded me of Godard from the same period. The film has a hard edge—one reason it has not dated—yet also a soft center, a tenderness. It strikes a very deft balance between straightforward, almost documentary realism and more playful, “cinematic” touches, for which your obvious artistry comes into play. I didn’t think there was a scene in it that rung false—although the scene with the priest didn’t have the weight it needed, and the ending was a bit abrupt.

Peter Finch is a very charismatic presence, and his character had a satisfyingly grounded, no-nonsense quality about it. It helped balance the dreamy moodiness of the girl, who sometimes came off as less “deep” than merely coy. I especially enjoyed Lynn Redgrave—what a performance! Not a false note in it.

It’s rare that a movie earns the term “slice of life” and yet doesn’t make us suffer for it—banging us over the head with excess earnestness and sincerity. The best I can say about Girl (and it’s high praise) is that it’s almost totally convincing and yet never dull—wholly unpretentious without being pedestrian. Most impressive at all, it still seems fresh and alive (though for obvious reasons it’s no longer “daring”) today, forty years later. I think what accounts for its success as a film is the apparent spontaneity with which you handle the scenes, camera, and actors. That spontaneity (or the illusion of it) acts like magical embalming fluid: just like some of those Godard flicks (which I adore), the film has aged in a very pleasing way. It doesn’t seem “old” so much as “experienced.” A film with a past?

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