Kissing off

Casting the end of the millennium as a love story.

A FRENCH TELEVISION company commissioned seven directors from seven different countries to somehow capture the turn of the millennium on film. Several decided to focus on a boy and girl coming together at this portentous moment—and why not? With the world coming to an end (and that's what people inevitably think about when those zeroes roll around), we think of the best and the worst that could befall us; the world can take care of its own problems.

The Wall

directed by Alain Berliner

Tamas and Juli

directed by Ildiko Enyedi

plays July 2-8, Grand Illusion

This week's double feature at the Grand Illusion, The Wall and Tamas and Juli, examines the end of time through the lens of love—but the two films come from very different visions.

In The Wall, from Belgian director Alain Berliner (Ma Vie en Rose), devil-may-care European youths dance under a giant, Internet-connected screen. Young Australians prove more anxious, perhaps because they're going to be the first to cross over; their images, floating above the dancers, jerk digitally at the same rhythm as their hopes and fears. But Belgium faces a grave crisis: the country is split down the middle, one half speaking French, the other half Flemish (I think; I have to confess I wasn't entirely clear on the details of this split, and I'm not sure whether it's a genuine controversy or a metaphor for the tribalism fragmenting other European countries. I suspect the latter). Straddling this linguistic/cultural divide is a food vendor named Albert, who sells chips (fries) from a portable trailer that sits directly on the border between the two sides. He's a lonely, chubby fellow, sweet by nature, who yearns to dance like Fred Astaire. As the film starts, he meets a young hitchhiker he's attracted to, but whom he accidentally offends with a joke. Later, when delivering chips to the aforementioned party, he speaks with her again and they become more friendly.

But when morning comes—or doesn't come, as the sun fails to rise on January 1, 2000—they discover a concrete wall has been built along the border, dividing the country (and Albert's trailer) in half. Using a mix of sprightly magic realism and political allegory ࠬa 1984, The Wall comes to the pleasant if unsurprising conclusion that love finds a way.

The love relationship is actually not as intriguing or affecting as the relationship of Albert with his father, who died in an accident years before and has been haunting him ever since. The old man continues to offer unwanted advice and criticism to his melancholy son until the two finally have it out under the shadow of this oppressive wall.

THE OTHER HALF of the bill is less cheerful. Directed by Hungarian Ildiko Enyedi (My 20th Century, Magic Hunter), Tamas and Juli follows the romance of a handsome young coal miner and a pretty young preschool teacher. Though the film starts on a wintry New Year's Eve, it flashes back and forth to spring and summer, frequently showing various locales shifting from being warm and green to cold and gray. At first, the two lovers seem swept up in the classic glow of young love; but as the days and weeks pass, schisms arise, and their innocence becomes tainted by baser desires. Though the film has a cool but artful aesthetic sense, it never offers much more than a fairly standard story line. Tamas and Juli are attractive young people with sympathetic faces, but they're not terribly interesting or complex in any unconventional way. And the ending comes so abruptly and to such little purpose that it almost seems to have resulted from a lack of time rather than an artistic choice. Despite this, Tamas and Juli moves along and offers a number of small pleasures, including two secretaries at the coal-mine offices celebrating the New Year on their own, enjoying themselves regardless of what life has offered them.

 
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