The Guard (McDonagh, 2011) and The Beaches of Agnes (Varda, 2008)

These are actually both quite good films and probably deserve their own unique posts, but since I have a link to a formal review of The Guard, I’ll skimp on that a bit here and talk more Varda.

The Beaches of Agnes is directed by Agnes Varda – the only renowned female director to emerge from the French New Wave and best known for her films Cleo From 5 to 7, Vagabond, and The Gleaners and I.  Varda’s career reminds me of Louis Malle’s.  Both shuffle between documentary and fictional work, have made immensely personal films, and have hopped around between genres (although Malle has surely made more pure genre works).

The Beaches of Agnes is as close to an essay film as you’ll find this side of Chris Marker.  Varda looks back on, among other things, her individual films, her relationship with her husband, the great Jacques Demy, and the inception of the New Wave.  There’s even an “appearance” by Marker, in the form of his cheshire cat image and disguised voice.

The great appeal of The Beaches of Agnes is that, although it’s very much about filmmaking, Varda is such an engaging personality and the filmmaking is so strong, that if you don’t care about film history at all you can still find somethings to like in here.

The personal reflection bits, as Varda wanders around a beach filled with mirrors, and the comical sections, as she imagines her production office as outdoor desks on a manufactured beach in the middle of Paris, are the highlights of a film that is both ruminative and light, heart-breaking and optimistic.  Varda isn’t interested in making a film about regrets.  Her film, for being the work of an 80 year-old, is incredibly fresh and youthful.  She jumps fluidly from scene-to-scene, topic-to-topic, but its her energy, willingness and ability to be perfectly at ease on camera, and outlook on the past where memory is like, in her words “a swarm of confused flies,” that make the film work.

This is not a Resnais-like look at memory where we must discern what is accurate and not.  Nor is it as densely collage-driven as a Marker picture.  Though Varda talks about the anger that she was drawing from in a film like Vagabond, that film, alongside her others, are all present in The Beaches of Agnes: in their refusal to look backwards (the crux of Cleo From 5 to 7).

The Guard

The only reason I went to see The Guard in the first place is because I like Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson and because director John Michael McDonagh is the brother of Martin McDonagh – the genius behind The Pillowman and In Bruges.

This film is pretty hilarious.  I went with a friend and we talked about the end and how it sort of sinks (more on that…) into an action film in the end.  If you don’t know the plot it’s fairly simple: Gleeson is Detective Boyle.  Cheadle is Wendell Everett, an FBI man.  Everett comes to Boyle’s small Irish town on the trail of a few major drug traffickers (among them a very funny Mark Strong).  The film is mostly about Boyle, but also very much about two different people co-existing.  And, as I’ve indicated, it culminates in a pretty fantastic shoot-out scene – a scene which is fairly anomalous in a film that relies otherwise on sharp, witty dialogue and set pieces.

The more I think about it though, the more I like the ending.  SPOILERS here:

Boyle is the lone cop who isn’t on the take.  He lets Everett in on the location of the drug drop.  Together they crash the transfer.  Boyle shoots…well he kind of shoots everyone…and then disappears in a blaze of fire and gunshots.

It’s kind of a ridiculous scene, complete with semi-automatic guns, cheesy one-liners, and huge explosions.  But I think that ultimately it works for reasons beyond the pyrotechnics.  Gleeson’s Boyle is a difficult character to read.  One of his many possible lies (/infringements on the truth) is that he was an Olympic swimmer who just narrowly missed the bronze medal.  He seems to care so little about preserving any type of truth, whether it be past truth or present truth.  That he goes out in a shoot-out that is so absurd as to be fictional is fitting.  The question, ‘why can’t he be an Olympic swimmer’ is as appropriate as ‘why can’t he have died in a gun battle’?  In short, he’s a man who has lived on fictions, and in the end, though it’s presented as cinematic fact, he basically dies in his own fiction.  It’s kind of great, actually.

Anywho…here’s a link to a review where I sound like I know something:

http://www.soundonsight.org/the-guard-beyond-a-simple-redemption-tale/

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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