One of the things I do at the end of a long semester is to watch as many films and television shows as possible and to read as many books as I can. I think most people do this; at least, several of my students professed deep pleasure at the idea of being free to read what they wanted when they wanted to. Now, I’m still working on different things, so much of my reading is work related. None of my viewing choices are work related, thankfully. I’m engulfed in the series finale of Lost, and I’m trying to resist the urge to re-watch the previous seasons now so easily accessed on hulu.com.
I’ve also been dreaming of Italy again, a summer time habit of mine. I need to go back to Florence. But for now, I’ll take it via film. (Indeed, a lot of my travel yens are inspired by film.) I saw Letters to Juliet this past weekend, and it was just a delightful romantic comedy. I could have done without the B-plot of Sophie’s looks good on paper engagement–what a way to under use Gabriel Garcia Bernal–,but the A-plot of the Secretaries of Juliet and answering letters people write to the Juliet of Shakespeare’s play was smart, quirky, and engaging. (I say this as someone who still doesn’t like Romeo and Juliet; not even Bax Lurhamn was able to fully recover that play for me.) Vanessa Redgrave as Claire Smith was warm, and her slow, measured way of moving and speaking grounded the film in the paper thin realities of old age and righting regrets. Indeed, Sophia’s love story and realizations were merely a vehicle for Claire’s journey to find her lost love. It ended with perhaps too much sweetness, but I think that was a product of the almost unnecessary B-plot. Surely another way could have been found to send Sophie to Verona?
I also re-watched Roman Holiday this week. I forget how measured the film is after the barge fight. Of course, Mr. Bradley has fallen for Princess Ann by this point, but the realization takes him completely by surprise. The looks between Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn are full of longing and knowledge that this spark between them simply cannot be. She must return; they know it and we know it. The whole last few scenes, from him taking her back to the palace to the press conference, dwell on the theme of duty and longing. There’s no angst here, just a quiet acceptance and Bradley acknowledging his original duplicitous role in giving Ann her holiday. The film resists the quick fix that a film today would have, which is a large part of why Hepburn won an Oscar for this role. Her performance before the press conference is smart and vibrant, but it’s the calm reserve and control she shows in this scene that makes the film. Both Peck and Hepburn have to convey worlds of emotion via looks and innuendo. Nothing can be clearly stated. And the end scene, with him walking quietly away from the podium, after she and all the press have left, is profound.