Monday, November 19, 2007

"STRANGERS ON THIS ROAD WE ARE ON"

I saw for a second time Wes Anderson's latest movie, The Darjeeling Limited. This time I got to see the short, called "Hotel Chevalier" and labeled "Part One of The Darjeeling Limited, that has been attached to the film. And this time I was completely sober. The only detraction is that this time the theater had a faulty speaker which definitely was annoying and distracting, particularly during moments when the music was highlighted.

Watching "Hotel Chevalier" (which features Jason Schwartzman, in his role of Jack Whitman from Darjeeling, with his girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman, in a swanky Parisian hotel) is to be wooed by Anderson's gift for composition in the widescreen image, but also by his fluid, expressive camera movements. And the way he uses slow motion is, well, musical. And the way he uses music is poetic. The song that Schwartzman plays on his iPod, "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)," is light-hearted, but adds melancholy to the scene because it seems so incongruous with Schwartzman's tense romantic pain. (His performance as Jack is Schwartzman's best work to date.)

But where Anderson's use of music really shines is in the three great slow motion moments in Darjeeling: the opening, when a harried businessman played by Bill Murray rushes to and misses the train, overtaken on the way by Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody), who catches the train by leaping aboard, to the tune of The Kinks' "This Time Tomorrow." I don't know why the song is so perfect, but it has something to do with the yearning in Davies' vocals as he imagines leaving the earth behind for good while on a plane flight.

Having begun with The Kinks' 1970 album, Lola and Powerman vs. The Money-go-round, Anderson sticks with it -- the next time it surfaces is when the three brothers (the third is Francis, the eldest, played by Owen Wilson, in head and facial bandages after a motorcycle "accident" that was actually a suicide attempt), who were last together at their father's funeral a year before, are asked to stay for the funeral of a boy Peter was unable to save from death in the rapids of a river. The scene when the three brothers emerge, dressed for the Indian funeral, is set to "Strangers," a song that Ray Davies' brother Dave sings: "we are strangers on this road we are on / we are not two we are one." There's a moment when Brody -- who is consistently a focal point in the film -- turns and looks back at the other two that seems to register the full weight of whatever is meant by the word "fraternal."

Finally, at the end of the film, the three run for another train and can only make it by discarding all their luggage, to the tune of "Powerman," a much pop-ier rock number, showing, in its bravura, the new solidarity among the misfit brothers, who have actually, against all likelihood, engaged in the "spiritual journey" that Francis brought them together for.

And those are just the rock songs. The soundtrack is filled with haunting music from a host of soundtracks of films made in India. The odd thing about Anderson films is that each first viewing of one, for me, is always a bit tentative, not fully convinced of the merits of what I'm seeing. And the second viewing (and there's always a felt need for a second viewing) is the "fall in love" viewing. It happened this time too. After that, it's just a matter of continuing to sing the praises of, for my money, the only auteur of the under-40 set.

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