Do writers get vacations?
Infinity Pool & The Super-8 Years
Film reviews by Marc Glassman
Brandon Cronenberg, writer and director
Starring Alexander Skarsgaard (James Foster), Cleopatra Coleman (Em), Mia Goth (Gabi), architect husband Alban (Jalil Lespert), Thomas Kretschmann (Thresh)
It’s tough being a writer and vacations don’t necessarily pan out the way you’d like them to go. Two new films feature writers in very different ways. One stars Alexander Skarsgard as a novelist dealing with writer’s block in Brandon Cronenberg’s satirical horror comedy Infinity Pool. The other is The Super 8 Years, a very artful and personal documentary featuring Nobel Prize winning novelist Annie Ernaux’s life as a young mother in the 1970s.
Infinity Pool, which premiered at Sundance last week and will open in cinemas now is the third feature by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon. An infinity pool is built so the water flows over one or more edges, producing a visual effect of water with no boundary. And this film feels like there are no borders. It’s nightmarish and hallucinatory in a way fitting for a Cronenberg film. Set in Li Tolqa, a fictional country that offers fabulous vacations to rich tourists in luxurious compounds, the film’s main character, James Foster, is a failed novelist seeking solace and inspiration with his wife Em as support. They meet Gabi, an actress, and her architect husband, Alban, who convince them to break the rules and leave the compound. They all get drunk and while driving on the road back, James hits and kills a native farmer. When he’s arrested, things suddenly become nightmarish. He’s told that native customs dictate the family take his life as justice for killing one of theirs. But, it turns out, there’s a way to make a double for yourself who will be killed in your stead. Still with me? From here, the story gets more and more bizarre with lots of sex, drugs and murders taking place. You may never want to travel again—and certainly not to a country like La Tolqa. One has to wonder what Cronenberg is going for in his depiction of the country, which is lambasted by all of the rich foreigners staying in the compound. Are we for them or against them? In this age where we are criticizing imperialism and colonialism more and more, should Cronenberg have made his satire even more pointed? Kudos must go to Alexander Skarsgard as novelist James Foster and a brilliant Mia Goth as actress Gabi.
The Super-8 Years
Annie Ernaux, script and narration and David Ernaux-Briot, director
Documentary with Annie, Philippe and Eric Ernaux and David Ernaux-Briot
From 1971 through 1982, the novelist Annie Ernaux’s husband Philippe shot footage of her, their sons David and Eric and other family members on vacations abroad and in France. Using a Bell and Howell Super 8 camera, Philippe shot expertly, capturing the mountains of Annecy in France and the Andes in Chile, the sea side and ancient ruins in Albania, the monuments to Communism in the USSR and a vacation compound in Morocco. Annie Ernaux and her son David have gone over the footage, adroitly mining the home movies to show their family as they experienced life in the Seventies: the visits with grandparents, skiing in the mountains, seeing London’s parks, visiting Chile under the socialist regime of Salvador Allende and being heavily guarded in Albania and the USSR. Mainly, we understand how Annie Ernaux felt, trapped in a role as a wife and mother when she wanted to be free to write novels and experience a fuller life. The film talks about—but can’t really show—how Philippe and Annie come apart and eventually separate in the early ‘80s. The Super 8 Years is an intimate film, full of the pleasures one receives when seeing how life unfolded decades ago. This is a dramatic and personal film, one worthy of highest acclaim.
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