Friday, July 27, 2012

Take this Waltz (Saturday, June 30, 2012) (61)

Canadian dynamo actress/writer/director Sarah Polley's first feature film Away from Her is a very interesting, personal look at love and devotion during Alzheimer's. The film has the decency and carefulness of Atom Egyoan, a director Polley worked with in the past as an actress, and shows a tremendous amount of restraint and talent. In her second film, Take this Waltz, Polley looks again at love and devotion, although this time from a younger point of view. One could see this film as a "prequel" to Away from Her, as an examination of a couple struggling to stay together. 

Margot (Michelle Williams) is a woman in her late-20s/early-30s who lives with her loving husband Lou (Seth Rogan). They lead a rather typical young urban life (in Toronto, natch), where she writes travel guide books and he is a cookbook author. On a visit to a tourist destination she meets a guy to whom she's immediately attracted. Lo and behold, it seems he's her next-door neighbor, Daniel (Luke Kirby). The two flirt for awhile and end up beginning an affair together. 

Margot, who never expected to fall out of love with Lou, is suddenly faced with an existential dilemma about the future of her marriage. We see how happy she is with Daniel and how hum-drum her married life is. 

Polley has a really nice style and a very careful and visually connected presentation. She tells much of the emotional story through simple camera angles and compositional elements. At one point while Margot is struggling with her feelings for the two men, we see a straightforward shot of the married couple on two sides of the kitchen window. She's inside with (diegetic) music playing, while he sits outside on the porch, cut off from her literally and emotionally. 

Later, we see Margot and Daniel on a date in a carnival tilt-a-whirl. Polley shoots the pair from inside the car, so they stay in the shot, while the rest of the world literally spins around them. Both of these shots are very clever and translate volumes of emotional material efficiently. This is the touch of a great director who is able to convey deep feelings in a naturalistic context without the audience noticing. 

A strange recent trend in (Canadian) cinema is not knowing when to end a film -- or ending it a whole scene or section too late (see Heartbeats and Incendies). Polley suffers a similar fate as she adds on an unnecessary coda that shows Margot in the months that follow her decision about the two men. This does serve to tie up the story in a very neat and tidy way, and makes her personal journey a slight bit more complete, but it really just gives more information that doesn't help us understand her psychology more. (There's also a totally silly over-the-top sex montage that is more laughable than powerful.) The film would have been much cleaner and tighter without this postscript. 

Still, this element is mainly a writing issue (the script is also by Polley) and doesn't really take anything away from the very good picture that precedes it. Polley is clearly a very talented director and seems to have an independent vision for filmmaking and story telling. I very much look forward to her next film  -- and hope she knows when to stop it at the right time.

Stars: 3 of 4

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