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Short Takes on Film
Ben Nyce | Via Latina


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Gravity is a mixed bag. It has a clunky script and powerful visuals, which stress the dangerous and hostile environment of space. The director Alfonso Cuaron’s earlier films Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children Of Men are better. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock perform their roles encased in space suits – that is until Bullock disrobes as she fights for survival. They are making adjustments to the Hubble Space Telescope when the debris from a failed Russian satellite attacks them. We see them tumbling and gyrating in deep space.

These visuals are powerfully dramatic and should be seen in 3D (Arc Light Cinema, for example). Clooney eventually decides to drift off to death, freeing Bullock to make her way to the Russian space station where she oxygenates herself and then pulls out instruction manuals (in Russian) and manages to stabilize herself by pushing various buttons. Later she does the same at a Chinese space station. In the midst of these improbabilities Clooney pays her a visit and, cool wisecracker that he is, calms her down. It’s a fantasy of course on Bullock’s part. The script evidently feels she needs a calming male presence despite her evident skills at space survival. After one visually stunning crisis after another Bullock manages to descend to earth – a hardly believable ending after a spectacular series of disintegrating space stations and satellites which explode before our eyes. The fantasies of Star Wars are here revised. After seeing Gravity perhaps the very rich will think twice about a million dollar excursion into space.

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What does a visit to an art museum do to the eye? This is the subject of Museum Hours which has been quietly building an audience at La Jolla’s Landmark, despite having no starts, no promotion. It’s a subtle, diffuse film with a seemingly random structure. An American woman comes to Vienna to comfort a dying relative, and in her time away from the hospital visits the great museum there, forming a friendship with a gentle, perceptive museum guard. This plot is the ostensible subject but the real meat of the film lies in the visual response to the paintings – particularly the work of Brueghel, the great painter of peasant life in the 16th century.

The camera notices details of paintings then moves us outside to the random, chaotic images of a flea market nearby. Do we see these images differently after scrutinizing the paintings? The film suggests that we do – and that Brueghel’s canvases, so full of spontaneous actions all happening at once, are but a refinement of everyday, random experience. There’s also a happenstance quality to the growing friendship between the guard and the woman. They didn’t plan to be together when she came to Vienna. He’s the noticing eye in the museum, observing the observers as well as the art, and helping to relieve her situation through the art they look at together, as well as through his friendship. Not at all bored as he walks through the galleries, he’s fully alive. He’s the perfect example of the power of great art. Like a fine painting Museum Hours grows on you after you have seen it.

Nyce taught literature and film at USD. He authored “Satyajit Ray” and “Scorsese Up Close.” Check the Del Mar Library at 755-1666 for availability of films discussed in this column.


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