Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.


After wiping the tears from my eyes and sitting through the entire credit sequence, I began comparing Solaris to other films left right and center. 2001 A Space Odyssey, Forbidden Planet, Nu, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Yes, Alien...Combine the style of one, the plots of the next three, and the soundscape of the final two, leave to boil and you've got Solaris - a film which is reminiscent of them all in a good way, without ever feeling derivative.

Somehow, despite the ease with which I identified its sister films, Solaris is unlike anything I've ever experienced. Not seen, experienced. At times, it's sheer lyrical poetry. Who needs a plot when you've got such...sheer atmosphere. Occasionally, I extol foreign films for the virtue of their being "foreign". I'd shift Solaris into that category of total, alien "otherness" if not for the fact it stars George Clooney and was directed by the scarcely less foreign Steven Soderburgh.

The names deserve an extra special mention. The former because this film exposes his scarily well-toned posterior (…though if that thought makes you interested, then this definitely isn’t the film for you); the latter because he is now possibly *drumroll*, my NEW FAVORITE DIRECTOR...I might have to think about that declaration in the cold light of day, as I don't pick them up lightly, but I feel Steven Soderbergh has truly earned the title. (At the very least, he can hang with Tarantino, Leone and the brothers Scott in the wannabe lounge.)

Cue groans, but for me, his most attractive habit is the strict attention he pays to his colour scheme. You'll notice it most in Traffic - alarmingly cool blues contrasted with equally alarming oranges when the scene shifts from Washington, to Mexico and back again. But even Syriana's pale emptiness and the "Jackie Brown-ness faux-70s feel" of Ocean's Eleven and Out of Sight showcases the guy's talent for atmosphere and colour-coordination.

Solaris carries this on, but so subtly I can’t put my finger on quite what one would do to replicate it. Solaris itself is all cold metals and purples. Our hero’s memories, however, are yellowed and warm, but also dark. He’s almost perfectly replicated that strange darkness which dreams do have.

As for our hero, Mr Clooney does a fantastic job, but he’s really aided by the cinematography. Depression, proper medical depression, isn’t just a case of crying and dying. One of the symptoms is pure disinterest and lack of energy. I’ve seen it tried before – in Nu, and Broken Flowers – and it’s very hard to do well – a properly depressed hero, characterised by apathy, can’t propel a plot and just absorbs all the excitement. Yet here it works – often, the camera itself is as disinterested as its depressed protagonist, choosing not to look at the person speaking, focusing on other reactions, or the surroundings, or anything but the speakers eyes. I doubt there’s a shot-reverse-shot in the entire short running time.

Yet, just because it's not foreign, doesn’t necessarily mean it's in English. Solaris is written in hints, half glances and long thrumming silences. This film proves that silent movies were an art form all of their own - merely lumbered with lame plots. Solaris is very, very quiet. Aside from the constant thrum of the engines, barely a word is spoken. That means you've got to pay attention - and oh, what a treasure of an experience it is! Sometimes you just get so sick of spoon-fed exposition. Sample:

"Hi Rod!"
"Hi Wayne! Will you help me at the car wash tomorrow which I have to do because I promised Tina, 26, that I would for her animal charity?"
"Wayne, you're my big brother. I'd do anything for you, especially since your former secretary and ex-wife Sandrine, 41, ran away with Joanne, 39, and you're feeling really rough about it e.t.c...."

Especially the "you're my older brother" line. I'm sorry, few siblings feel the need to point this out on a regular basis, and it's a truly lazy trick for screenwriters to pull, and yet you find it in LOTR, in the Godfather...

Solaris does none of this. It's not even a case of following the script closely - if you take your eyes off the screen, or your mind from the moment, you'll miss the hints which tell you what's actually going on. Like the silent films did. Even the music is no help here - ambient, beautiful, but not giving anything away.

Obviously in these days of wham-bang-thank-you-Sam film making, this is a film in a million. “What do you mean I need to concentrate?!” And the description "sci-fi arthouse" alienates about 9/10 of the English speaking world. But even if you hate sci-fi, still give it a go…summarising the plot effectively actually destroys the film. (it’s not like it’s twisty, but by the time I’ve explained what’s going on and why it’s important to our hero, I’ve taken over half of what you’ll be finding out.) But after viewing, if you return to my previous sci-fi rant, you’ll discover Solaris isn’t really sci-fi at all. After all, the central plot could work as well without space. This story is really about love and silence.

Of course, if you hate arthouse, then you’re at a irretrievable loss. Skiet, skop and donner addicts should beware – excitement levels in this film are at a constant nul. But if you have time, and patience, and you want to see a damn great movie, Solaris is your ticket.

And now, I present to you *drumroll* a play in one act, with a single scene.
Players - myself and my sister.
Set: at home, in the evening, on the stairs...
Costumes: pair of crutches for my legbroken sister; air of insufferable superiority


Scene: the landing. Alice is stuck at the bottom of the stairs because of her crutches. Emily is at the top.

E: What!
A: Why didn’t you tell me Tim Roth played Mr Orange in Reservoir Dogs!?
E: (disbelief) WHAT?!
A: You should have told me!
E: I did. Repeatedly. At length.
A: We did a trivia quiz, and the question was who played Mr Orange, and one of the options was Tim Roth, and I thought “no it can’t be him because if he had, you would have been squooning* constantly!”
E: I have been!
A: Yeh, but I thought…
E: Haven’t you been listening to me for the last TWO YEARS?** I have barely spoken about anything else since hearing THE TITLE. Not seeing the film, hearing the title.
A: Yeh, but I thought “can’t be” and so I got the answer wrong…
E: Can't be?! What made you think that? Who did you choose instead?!
A: it was pictures, so I picked another randomer
E: *headdesk*

*Between a squee and a swoon
**Not really an exaggeration. If you removed the conversations about it,
its director, its cast and its directors other films, I would have kept
my mouth shut for a considerable chunk of last year. Probably would have made more friends too.

I can’t remember any more details, but this (good humouredly, mind) went on for a fair while. And bear in mind this conversation was happening at considerable volume, because we were either end of a flight of stairs. Someone needs to make that girl see the film. Never mind the fact she’s a few years south of proper...

…though I can’t think much of a quiz which asks “Which of these films is Robert DeNiro in?” and then offers both Goodfellas and Mean Streets as options…my sister gains back points for noticing this error, but neglecting to identify that one of my favourite actors plays my favourite character in one of my favourite films (not to mention that I talk about favourite film, actor and character all the damn time…it’s not like any of those facts is a secret…) is something of a blunder.

Michael Emerson, Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lily, Josh Holloway, Terry O’Quinn, Emily Du Ravin, Harold Perrinau, Michelle Rodreguez, Maggie Rutherford, Dominic Monaghan…Aka…aku…A.A.A…e.t.c...

If you can spot the significance of the names which began to steamroll and thunder through my head the instant I discovered my sister was ignorant of the above tiny fact, you need to get a life…

FINALLY. If you've bypassed IMDB today, you may have discovered that Ingmar Bergman is dead. This makes me irepressably glum, despite the fact I have only seen the Seventh Seal, and was once guilty of calling him "Ingrid Bergman" by mistake. My sympathy goes out to everyone.


Will said...

Hey Emily, the problem I had with Solaris is that it was too short. I didn't think Clooney suffered enough through the film if that makes sense.

You should try the the original Solaris. It is a full hour longer and includes that much more silence.

Ninquelosse said...

Good points I suppose - at the time I wrote that, I was gushing...I've recovered a little now...still, I stick by the fact that it was a truly remarkable and unusual film. Seeing the original would be interesting.

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