Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Old Virginny

Part 1

As chef de bureau I’m always searching for interesting odd shaped objects, even while in Virginia for my dear mom’s 90th birthday. In Richmond, VA I was hugely gratified to come across an actual odd shaped object that was both interesting and delicious. At one point in the several days of festivities, my sister (hostess extraordinaire) brought home some crispy legs and thighs from Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken. I had never heard of it. The crust was so thick that a thigh was not recognizable by its shape but my suspicions died when I tasted it. It was greaseless and wonderfully tasty.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for over 30 years and decades go by without my eating any fried chicken since I’m not aware of any good emporia of that delight. If Lee’s was located here, instead of 2438 miles away, I’d be eating fried chicken a lot more often. (You can get fried livers and gizzards too but we abstained).

Part 2

I grew up in Virginia but in the northern part, the suburbs of Washington D.C. That is the most populous region of the state but is often considered by Virginians further south as not really Virginia.

Some friends in Richmond recently moved out to a house on the Chickahominey River. No one is going to say that’s not Virginia. The river ran with the blood of Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War and is an example of the Tidewater region, although the salt water is blocked from their part of the river by a dam.

I’ve always had a 19th century vision of swamps as miasmal cesspools so I was amazed at how pleasant the swampy banks of the river were. It wasn’t even buggy since the flies and mosquitoes were kept down by the abundant fish, birds and bright green dragonflies.

Our friends’ house is on dry land but has a long boardwalk that goes through the swamp and out to the river. There’s a wide part in the boardwalk, under some trees, where there’s a table and chairs. We sat there and watched the natural world go by. I include a few photos, which is a first for The Bureau of OSO.

Monday, June 9, 2008

La Double vie de Véronique

As chef de bureau my filmic purview has so far consisted of genre films with the exception of “The Namesake”, a drama, although one with seemingly modest aims, a chamber piece. Now, however, we’re turning the bureaucratic gaze on a film that comes stamped “Art”.

This 1991 film is by Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski. Its motto could be Hippocrates aphorism, “Ars longa, vita brevis.”

The first section of “Véronique” is suffused with beauty: the beauty of the autumn light in Poland; the beauty of Zybigniew Preisner’s music; The luminous beauty of Irène Jacob as Weronica, a young classical singer.

Weronica has a wonderful voice and is full of youthful exuberance. She also has a sense that she has a double somewhere and then knows that she does when she glimpses Véronique (also Irène Jacob) on a tourist bus. But the existence of her double is not the central focus of this section.

Weronica has a chance to make her concert debut and is determined to put all other things aside for it. She has already left her lover behind in another town but now she starts to experience cardiac chest pains. She ignores them and goes ahead with her performance. If this were a thriller, I’d worry about spoilers, but this isn’t that kind of film. Weronica collapses and dies while singing.

We see a shot looking up from her casket, presumably through a glass panel, as her family, lover and friends drop handfuls of dirt that cover the frame until it’s black. We cut to Véronique who is in bed with a young man who she has no intention of seeing again. She feels Weronika’s death and, in the next scene, quits her music lessons as if she somehow knows that her double sacrificed her life for art. She’s not going to do that. We see scenes of her with EKG printouts so we know she has heart disease also.

From this point the film wanders and becomes a bit of a beautiful mess. As chef I have nothing against messes. I regard Jean Renoir as the greatest director of all and his films are often grand messes and transcendent works of art at the same time (“la Règle de jeu”). However, my sense of plot demands more than a catalogue of the various elements in Véronique’s life. A large amount of screen time is dedicated to Véronique following clues to a puppeteer who she probably could have found in the phonebook. The film has an ambiguous ending that one could interpret as meaning that Véronique also dies, although she turned away from art.

This ending was not acceptable to Harvey “The Butcher” Weinstein who bought the American rights and demanded an unambiguous happy ending. Kieslowski complied but only for the US.

Kieslowski was an artist and had heart disease. He died on the table during open heart surgery in 1996. His “Trois coleurs” trilogy is magnificent. “La Double Vie de Véronique” is a very beautiful odd shaped object. I recommend seeing it dispite the problems I have with the second part.