From the moment the movie began, I had a funny feeling.
First, there were no opening credits — nothing to tell us who the producers or director were nor what famous actors would appear. No sign of even the author's name, like they showed in The Godfather. But I had seen Batman Begins, so I wasn't too worried.
Then I noticed there was no opening theme song (think Charade or Manhattan) to set the tone and tell me what to expect. But, during the past six months of online on-demand bingeing, I had seen all the James Bond movies and was used to waiting five minutes for the action and beautiful people and pulsating music to burst on the screen.
For the moment, all I saw was a table out in a pleasant backyard set with plenty of food and drink. The time was evening and the season was fall. The movie was in color — not high-definition, but it would do.
Then suddenly a couple entered the frame and sat down. I scanned their faces carefully. They looked strangely familiar but were neither famous nor beautiful. In fact, they were quite ordinary and frankly a little plump. Their clothes seemed a touch too festive for the informal occasion. But they looked friendly, rather flushed, even a bit excited. They started talking right away, exchanging some pleasantries, making a few small jokes — not particularly funny ones — that they laughed at themselves. Then, they looked deep into the camera and asked the most ordinary social questions … How are you doing? How's the family? Not the greatest dialogue and I couldn't quite figure out where the plot was going, but hey, the movie was just beginning.
They sat quietly for a while, looking back and forth at the camera and each other. I wondered if parts of this would be silent like in The Artist. Then they laughed nervously, reached out for the food, and began eating. They talked of very mundane things, and continued to periodically look at the camera nervously. Their awkwardness reminded me of the dinner at the in-laws in Shrek 2.
I wondered who these two rather pathetic, middle-aged people could be. Maybe he was a Nobel Prize winner, but she was the real brains behind the work. Maybe he was an adventurer and she owned a large farm in Africa. Or perhaps he was a famous resistance leader and while she admired him, she actually loved a short surly heart-broken café owner with a piano-playing sidekick. But in this movie, there would be no character development to speak of.
I couldn't quite figure out where the plot was going, but hey, the movie was just beginning.
Suddenly, as a contrast, I thought of that scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta takes Uma Thurman to a restaurant — and I hoped fervently that, like in the Tarantino masterpiece, a great song would start up and this couple would break out on the dance floor. But they didn't do that either.
Indeed, there was no music at all in this film. How was I to know what to feel — when to laugh, when to cry, when to empathize with the characters, when to suspect them, when to get scared, when to know everything would be just fine — if there were no musical cues?
Still, I felt certain that something dramatic must be about to happen, something like Mr. and Mrs. Smith each pulling out a long knife. Or Timothy Spall announcing to Kristin Scott Thomas that he was leaving her. Or maybe this couple was like Martha and George — although you wouldn't know it from their stilted dialogue — and another dysfunctional couple would join them.
The suspense was killing me, but I had to get up to go pee. I told my husband to hit pause.
When I came back, the movie was still running. I angrily asked him why he hadn't hit the pause button. My husband looked at me with glazed eyes and said that he couldn't find the pause button. As Dickie Greenleaf said in The Talented Mr. Ripley, "Spoo-ky-ky-ky".
Then, suddenly, there was some action on the screen. The couple had pushed back their chairs and were standing up. They were both looking straight at the camera and appeared visibly upset. Now at last there would be some exciting dialogue. "I don't know what the hell you two are playing at, inviting us here and not talking to us all evening," said the man. "But we've had more than enough." The woman, sobbing quietly, added: "And to think that after months of isolating, you two were the first friends we had wanted to see."
Truly experimental, so avant-garde!
OK, now things were getting interesting. We watched intently. The couple looked at the camera expectantly for a few moments, then shook their heads, sighed heavily, and left the frame.
My husband and I sat for a minute, watching their empty chairs, waiting for them to return; they did not. Then we sat for another minute, waiting for the closing credits; there were none.
He looked gobsmacked — like First Officer Murdoch after shooting two passengers on the Titanic — and whispered, "I thought you had."
But later on that night, I began to reevaluate what we had seen. No opening or closing credits. No music. Unattractive actors. No plot or character development. A script that perfectly captured the utter boredom of our reality. Breaking down the fourth wall ... Truly experimental, so avant-garde!
Or wait. Maybe this was just the first episode of another one of those series they label "slow burn," designed to suck you in whether you want to watch or not. Anyway, I'm hooked and we'll definitely be there for the next episode.
*Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer and editor, dividing her time between North America, Asia, and Netflix.
A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.
A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."
The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.
Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."
Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021
Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021
Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?
The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.
The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.
The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."
The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."
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