Friday, July 17, 2009

Against the Day

A few short notes about The International:

1. The character names, like something from Made in USA, are taken from literature and cinema: Salinger, Whitman, Wexler. The Italian is named Umberto Calvini (would Calvino have been too obvious?).

2. Clive Owen, Sisyphean as always, plays a man who hunts a conspiracy only to discover that there isn't one. What he at first believes to be a plot is in fact simply the mechanism of the world. He might as well fight the day. Naomi Watts is there to echo his words and explain them. When the explanations are no longer needed, she disappears from the film.

3. The International is something of an unfinished film. It was finished once, as a thriller, but it didn't test well, so the studio had Tom Tykwer re-shoot scenes to make it an action movie. So he have one full film and a fraction of another.

4. The film is not paranoid. It's not like a Pakula movie. Pakula's paranoia is born out of hope and disappointment. He's not a man who believes the world is sinister, but is worried that it could be. Tykwer and screenwriter Eric Singer don't have as much faith. The International is made by people who believe they know how the world works. The end credits sequence, the most essential in recent memory (and this is at a time when the end credits have taken on the role of "exit music"), confirms this: we see the events of the film unfold as they would in newspapers -- just the sort of stuff that would get a paragraph or two in the business pages of a major daily.

5. I admire its accusatory clarity. There's a clarity to the images (crisp, in Burberry and Alexander Wang colors, with the establishing shots photographed in 70mm -- Tykwer has said he'd have shot the whole film in the format if he could've afforded it) and to the ideas. Nothing is ambiguous about the plot -- the politics, the countries, are all very specific. Israel is Israel, Iran is Iran, the banks are the banks, Italy is Italy, the Red Brigades are the Red Brigades.

6. The world seen contre-jour appears to have a division between light and dark. But when you walk out into the sunlight and can see everything equally, the division disappears. (And what does the old Communist say when Owen interrogates him? "The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense," or something along those lines, sense always being a question of contrasts. Evil's easy to spot when it lurks in the shadows.)

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