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Monday, January 21, 2008

Trocular Bleugh

Trocular: to be jocular in a truculent manner. I came up with the word after seeing that episode of the League of Gentlemen where the two teenagers go to see Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue in their local cinema in the mistaken belief that it will be a ‘bluey’: ‘trocular bleugh’.

Anyway, I rewatched the film last night and wondered if I am only the person in the world whose ability to take Juliette Binoche’s seriousness seriously is torpedoed by the sheer dreadfulness of the film’s score. ‘Classical’ music as a signifier of high-brow earnestness and/or mental disturbance (remember Shine?) is a weary enough trope, but watching JB and her male friend’s protracted tug-of-war over finishing the great magnum opus was undercut, somewhat, for me by the fact that it still ended up sounding like a GSCE student’s course work in neo-classical pastiche. At one point the music started doing a series of descending scale figures, and I thought we were going to get one for every member of the EU (the piece has been commissioned to celebrate the ‘Unity of Europe’): ‘And now, over to Luxembourg for the G major scale!’ Any nastily chromatic passages could I presume be hived off to Belarus or Serbia, if only there were any, which they weren’t.

Initially, and not just initially, the heavily signalled ethical nature of JB’s character can only be expressed by renunciation. She gives up her house, the music she (it seems) and not her husband composed, love, everything. The fact that she is rich and can afford to do so without material suffering makes her renunciation just unreal enough to require an eventual renunciation of renunciation. But when she does re-engage, she still does so in the form of a refusal of and indifference to the self, as when she gives her husband’s pregnant mistress her country house. The film’s final montage of all the people whose lives she has touched, even when she has treated them with apparent dismissal (her mother, the boy who brings her the necklace from her husband and daughter’s crash scene), reinforces her radical selflessness. Is she liberated into this condition by the discovery of her husband’s affair, or has she hardened into it as a carapace for her grief and alienation? In fact, the stereotype of the solitary and misunderstood artist is inverted here, as all the selflessness I’ve just described is balanced by the sheer plodding, overblown awfulness of the music we are offered at the end of the film, which ‘reaches out’ to us, expressing itself directly and emotionally in ways Julie cannot in real life, and which stands in total contradiction of the uncompromising apartness she has displayed up to now.

Whatever the film is about, then, it isn’t liberation through art, but rather the opposite. If we do not truly renounce our lives the ignoble self will always find a way of reasserting itself and finding us out. In Julie’s case she is found out by giving in to the temptation to begin composing again, when the only ethical thing to do would be to trust her first instinct, destroy the score and not write anymore, if for no better reason than that she isn’t a very good composer. She is not, as her husband seems to have thought, a kind of saint (an all too handy reason, perhaps, for his infidelity). As she proves in her apparent moment of triumph, she is simply a regular to mediocre artist, like any other, whose mystique has been manufactured and hyped by the valueless world on which she claims to turn her back. Her problems and miseries are not so unique after all, and by embracing her compromised triumph as a great composer she secretly makes her peace with being a regular human being and failure, like you, me, or anyone else. And coming to terms with this will be her renunciation, not what went before.

1 comment:

Ms Baroque said...

Do you know what - this is a really interesting post. I dislike that film intensely for reasons which could be very similar to yours - thought you have stated them in terms I never could have. There is something I find - though I think there is much to admire in the film - intrinsically dishonest in its portrayal of this woman's grief (or whatever it is). I'd have to see it again to be more specific than that - and who knows, maybe I will. but I've seen it about three times and it did annoy me more and more every time.

Shame Kieslowski died so young, I did think he was an amazingly interesting filmmaker.