Sunday, September 23, 2012

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)

Margaret, starring Anna Paquin. Screen shot from The Culture Mom.

US 2011 © 2008 Fox Searchlight Pictures / / Dune / [copyright info incomplete]. EX: Anthony Minghella. P: Gary Gilbert, Sydney Pollack, Scott Rudin. D: Kenneth Lonergan. DP: Ryszard Lenczewski - Camera: Arricam LT - Laboratory: DeLuxe - Film negative format: 35 mm - Printed film formats: 35 mm, D-Cinema - 1.85:1. PD: Dan Leigh. AD: James Donahue. Set dec: Ron von Blomberg. Cost: Melissa Toth. Makeup: Felice Diamond. Hair: Thom Gonzales. VFX: Randall Balsmeyer. M: Nico Muhly. Theme tune: "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" by Francisco Tárrega. Opera scenes at the Metropolitan Opera: "Casta diva" from Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, sung by Christina Goerke. "Barcarole: Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" from Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach sung by Renée Fleming and Susan Graham. S: Jacob Ribicoff. ED: Anne McCabe. Casting: Douglas Aibel.
    C: Anna Paquin (Lisa Cohen, teenager of 17), Matt Damon (Aaron Caije, math teacher), Mark Ruffalo (Gerald Maretti, MTA bus driver), Kieran Culkin (Paul Hirsch, a schoolmate who takes care of Lisa's virginity), Olivia Thirlby (Monica Sloane), Rosemarie DeWitt (Margaret Marretti), J. Smith-Cameron (Joan Cohen, Lisa's mother), Matthew Broderick (John Andrew Van Tassel, English teacher), Allison Janney (Monica Patterson, casualty in the bus accident), Jean Reno (Ramon Cameron, Joan's boyfriend), Jeannie Berlin (Emily), John Gallagher, Jr. (Darren Rodifer), Matt Bush (Kurt Masur), Betsy Aidem (Abigail, Monica Patterson's cousin). - Christina Goerke: opera singer "Casta diva". - Renée Fleming and Susan Graham: opera singers "Barcarole".
    Loc: New York City. Original cut: 186 min (released on dvd). Theatrical cut: 150 min.
    2K DCP of the 150 min version from FS Film / Hollywood Classics viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki (Helsinki Film Festival), 23 September 2012.

The title of the movie comes from a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins, see beyond the jump break. There is no character called Margaret in the movie.

IMDb synopsis: "A young woman witnesses a bus accident, and is caught up in the aftermath, where the question of whether or not it was intentional affects many people's lives."

A mature film about immaturity, ein Bildungsroman, une éducation sentimentale, a coming-of-age tragedy of the 17-year old Lisa Cohen.

There is a rich, novelistic approach in the movie with psychological realism and well rounded personalities. There is the school world with Lisa cheating on a math test, struggling to make sense of King Lear and Gerald Manley Hopkins during the English lessons, and debating with zero patience about America's status in the world with a brilliant Syrian-born classmate.

There is the family situation: father has left for sunny California where he lives with his new girlfriend and sustains a telephone relationship with Lisa. (In Finnish we have a word for this: kännykkäisä = mobile phone father.) For her actress mother Lisa is a nightmare daughter, using her psychological insight to make her mother feel as miserable as possible.

Mother is dating an admirer, Ramon (Jean Reno), but when he (not a native English speaker) uses the term "Jewish response" it's the end of the relationship, and Ramon soon dies from a heart attack.

For a visit to her father Lisa wants to buy a cowboy hat, and when she sees a bus driver wearing one, she distracts him so that he fails to stop at the red light and causes a lethal traffic accident. The case is already closed (it's an accident) when Lisa gives a new statement which leads to a huge settlement to the victim's distant cousin. The arbitrariness of justice is the theme of the lawyer-driven branch of the story.

Lisa books a schoolmate to take care of her virginity, but they are not using the condom when they should. Lisa also seduces her math teacher (Matt Damon) - in a classic "Dont' Stand So Close To Me" situation - and admits it's her initiative. Yet she mentions later, in a semi-threatening way while another teacher is listening, that she has had an abortion. In her micro pants Lisa is a big tease still learning to understand the power of her sexuality. 

Margaret is also a movie about the power of art. Lisa's mother is an actress highly regarded by connoisseurs but not really understood by those next to her, including her daughter. Lisa's English teacher has varying success in trying to get his students to love the classics. First the mother, then the daughter visit the opera for the first time, initially sceptically and reluctantly, but in the conclusion they can't hold back tears listening to Renée Fleming and Susan Graham singing Offenbach's Barcarole. Art gives an outlet for their profound feelings of loss.

Lisa is hardly ever acting admirably, but the basic drive of the movie is about learning through experience, even through catastrophic mistakes. There is a sense of a possibility of a new start on a firmer ground in the conclusion.

The performances are first rate, and the theme tune from Francisco Tarrega brings an interesting dimension to the urban story.

Shot on photochemical 35 mm film, the digital intermediate of Margaret has been performed so well that I could not tell the difference although I sat on the fifth row of the big Bio Rex. I was so surprised at the result that after the screening I climbed the special outdoor stairs to the projection booth (Bio Rex was built for nitrate in 1935) to make sure it really was a DCP.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (GB 1844–89). Poems. 1918.

31. Spring and Fall
to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.


Hannu Tarmio, Janne Tarmio (ed.): Maailman runosydän [The Poetic Heart of the World]. Juva: WSOY / Viestintä Tarmio, 1998.

"Poetry is what gets lost in translation" (Robert Frost).
"Gedichte kann man nicht übersetzen, sondern bloß umdichten, welches allezeit mißlich ist" (Arthur Schopenhauer).

Gerald Manley Hopkins
Kevät ja syksy nuorelle tytölle

Margaret, murehditko kesän katoamista.
Goldengroven lehtien putoamista?
Niin kuin ihmisten tavaroihin, puitten lehtiin
sinun nuoret ajatuksesi kiintyvät, eikö niin?
Ah! kun sydän vanhenee
se kylmenee
vähitellen eikä valita
vaikka maailmat lehtimeressä seisovat kalpeina,
mutta sinä itket ja tiedät miksi, todella.
Hyvä on, lapsi, nimi on samantekevä:
kaikki suru syntyy samasta lähteeestä.
Tuskin suu tai mieli sitä ilmaisi,
minkä sydän kuuli, henki arvasi:
Juuri tähän vaivaan syntyi ihminen,
Margaret itkee itseään.

In Finnish by Risto Ahti [I changed the last word; Risto Ahti: "Margaret itkee Margaretia"].


Anonymous said...

I had an another encounter like that, but just the opposite. "Tabu", shown in Orion, was marked as a 35mm but to my eyes it looked like a digital copy. Do you have access to information in which format it was shown?

The movie itself was wonderful.

Antti Alanen said...

If you mean TABU shown at Helsinki Film Festival I would not know, but perhaps the print has been struck from a digital intermediate.