Tuesday 8 March 2011
Plus ça change
It was admirably bloody-minded of gay filmmakers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau to forge an epic in which the subject closest to their hearts doesn't rear its head until half way through. Born in 68 is, for its first hour or so, the tale of a beautiful woman (played by the luminous Laetitia Casta) torn between two men when she goes to live in a country commune following the student uprisings in Paris.
She has two children by one of them; the other continues to lead a fraught resistance against authority; the parents part; the children grow up. Which would all be the stuff of pure soap were it not for the fact that, like Heimat if without quite the same ambition, Born in 68 draws telling parallels and symmetries in history, in this case between the freedom-fighters of '68 and the son's Act-Up activities nearly twenty years later (this is where one of the filmmakers' direct experience kicks in).
I can't really imagine what the extended telly version must be like, but the very long film certainly has its fascination once you get used to the pace and the two wings of the action. It's especially rich when the children diverge, the daughter choosing a relatively conventional marriage to go against everything her wild-child mother stood for. Casta ages well, her grief-ravaged face speaking volumes about the hopeless love that's wearing her down, and most of the conversations have the ring of truth. I thought it was done, by and large, with lightness of touch; J found the signifiers of time passing - oh look, a big mobile phone, and is that the first laptop? - a bit overdone. But its heart and its performances are all in the right place. And how could one not wish to see everything made by the directors of the exquisite, and at times very sexy, Drole de Felix?
In the meantime, we've finally been swept up by even finer ensemble work in the first series - at least five more to go, I understand - of The West Wing, since I picked up a box worth of 44 episodes for a fiver from the local charity shop.
I know that to the converted I'm probably going to sound like someone who announces that e-mail is a wonderful thing, you should try it, but anyway: here's slick, witty characterisation, people you can care about, a bit of eye candy (Rob Lowe) and a performance of screwball-comedy grace from Allison Janney, as well as perfect set pieces, from monologues to septets, all giddyingly well stitched together. The only thing that jars for me is the saccharine score, which is so much more conventional than the script and makes the sentimental moments seem gluier than they are; but even that couldn't too much disfigure the episode we've just reached, about the state dinner for the visiting Indonesian dignitary, which is absolutely consummate in its changing tones from ironic start to emotional quiet curtain.
All this was balm to the spirit last night when I returned home prematurely from my first and last brush with a residents' committee - believe everything you're told about the backbiting, the defensive hostility towards newcomers, the pettiness - to watch more congenial White House round tables and to wish I belonged to them.