Slippery surfaces

I started the week with Blade Runner 2049. I was frustrated with it in 2017, but watching it over three nights at home, I’m more forgiving. It’s way too long. It looks beautiful, and it has some fascinating ideas, but the story is broken. The main villain disappears without much comment, and I didn’t buy the replicant rebellion, so the idea of K sacrificing himself had little emotional weight. It’s disappointing. There’s an interview in which Ridley Scott gleefully claims to have been heavily involved with writing the script, which might explain a few things. I did find K’s relationship with his home AI moving. She felt like the heart of the film. It’s a glimpse of what could have been.

(Am I doing weekly summary posts now? Perhaps I am. It helps me notice what impact the week’s books and films have had on me. Hand-written notes just get lost in the stream of ink on paper.)

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh, left me cold too. I admired it — the prose craft is superb, and it had funny moments, but I got bored and ended up skimming the final third. The unnamed protagonist had similarities to Eileen, Moshfegh’s previous novel, which I really enjoyed. This felt more like one of the art projects she satirises. It almost became another one of those books that snarled up my reading rotors in 2020, but I spotted the danger and switched to speed reading mode. I’m high-fiving myself for that.

From there, I jumped into The Man Who Saw Everything, by Deborah Levy, which was a lot more interesting. Her prose is impressive, with a formal air, possibly because she tends to write characters with academic backgrounds. I remember there being a surprising amount of dry economics and politics in Hot Milk, although that it’s been a while since I read that. She manages to make Saul Adler both sympathetic and unpleasant in his perfectly justified narcissism, and the ending felt suitably weighted and emotional. She makes the jumps in time pay off.

I closed the week with three sparky films. In Spontaneous, Brian Druffield somehow managed to make a film about high school students spontaneously exploding be funny, romantic, horrifying, sad and hopeful. There is a definite feel of a school shooting about the randomness of people dying in front of you, but the central relationship is sweet, and Mara is a fantastic comical and complex teenager (a stellar performance from Katherine Langford). It also feels right for COVID times.

The Woman Who Ran couldn’t be more different. In the suburbs of Seoul, Gam-hee visits old friends she hasn’t seen in years because her husband is away. She tells them she is happy, but this is the first time she has left his side since they were married, and we sense mixed feelings under the surface. It’s like she is trying on her friends lives to see if they are a better fit than her own.

Finally, swayed after a glass of wine by the superlatives in the Mubi description, there was All the Vermeers in New York, a weird, awkward independent film from 1990, that mixes a slightly grating jazz soundtrack with shots of New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, paintings by Vermeer, conversations between students who somehow share a ginormous flat in Manhattan, an aggressively out-of-place interaction between an artist and a gallery curator, and a stockbroker who has fallen in love with a student half his age. It’s one of those messes I’m glad I experienced, but I can’t recommend.