Saturday, April 08, 2017

Artless Art

The beauty of Akhil Sharma's novel Family Life lies in its understated style. The sentences are simple but delicately weighted. The metaphors and similes, born of close observation of ordinary life, are highly original. Throughout, the hopes and fears of migrating from India to America, and then the effects of a tragedy on the family in the new land, are evoked with painful honesty. This is not an easy book to read, for it deals with the devastation of happiness, but the style holds up the devastation to the light with wit and grace.

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WL recommended that I watch Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) when Kristen Stewart came up in our conversation.  I'm so glad I did. It's one of the best movies I've watched in the past few years. Directed by Olivier Assayas, the movie stars Juliette Binoche as an aging actress (Maria Enders) who returns to act in the play that launched her career but this time as the older woman, not the younger one. Stewart plays the personal assistant (Valentine) to the still-glamorous star, and amazingly holds her own against the French actress. When she helps Enders to rehearse her lines, life and art interact with insight and irony. The beautiful script, written by the director, is pointed and suggestive in its moments of confrontation and silence. The personal question is about coming to terms with one's age. The artistic question is whether a skillful experienced artist can still play a part with the direct innocence of a young ingenue. What is the art of forgetting one's art? How does one become a classic, timeless? Chloë Grace Moretz is wonderful too as the brash upstart Jo-Ann Ellis, who plays the younger woman in the re-staging of the play. One wants to dislike her, to compare her unfavorably to the loving and dedicated assistant Valentine. But the film has shown us that young actors are magnetic because of their unbridled egotism. And that young actors will, in turn, grow to be old actors.

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