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The Reeler Blog

A Day in the Life

By Christopher Campbell

It was probably unintentional, but the New York Film Festival's preview screenings on Friday turned out to be an appropriately paired-up double feature. Ira Sachs' new postwar infidelity dud, Married Life, and Ridley Scott's future-noir classic, Blade Runner, couldn't be any more different, but viewing them back-to-back emphasized some of the narrative flaws of the first film and achievements of the second.

Happily Married: (L-R) Kent Jones with filmmaker Ira Sachs and star Patricia Clarkson following Friday's screening of Married Life (Photo: S.T. VanAirsdale)

For starters, Married Life could benefit from losing its unnecessary, unmotivated voiceover narration, just as Blade Runner was improved when it shed its own in a 1992 re-cut. In the case of the 1949-set Married Life, the narration is supplied by Pierce Brosnan, in character as Richard, a suave playboy who falls for the mistress (Rachel McAdams) of his best-friend, Harry, played by Chris Cooper. Richard is a supporting character, an outside narrator relaying the plot by which Harry decides to murder his wife (Patricia Clarkson) to protect her from suffering a broken heart -- almost completely second-hand and after the fact.

Richard also narrates the film's source novel, John Bingham's Five Roundabouts to Heaven, providing readers a good point of view for the story. In Married Life, however, his hovering speech only provides lightly colorful but ultimately useless commentary on what the audience is fully capable of understanding visually. Never mind, though, that the narration in Married Life is redundant or that it provides the would-be suspenseful crime drama with a playfully misdirected tone; the major issue is that Sachs appears to misunderstand the purpose of using voiceover as a storytelling device in which point of view is established.

"I don't really think of the film as being told from one point of view," Sachs acknowledged during a press conference following Friday's screening. "It's a roving sense of identification, and I think that that's something you feel in throughout the story -- even in a certain way when you suddenly know that (Clarkson's) character is having an affair. I mean, yes, the information is revealed through Richard, but actually it just makes you realize (all the characters) have points of view. And my intent was (that) there's a sort of democratic understanding of each of their perspectives on the story."

Of course, with a democratic point of view, it would make more sense to have multiple character narration. Otherwise, there's no need to have a voiceover except as a lazy way of adapting the source material without developing more cinematic ways of dealing with exposition.

"We never considered it without his narration," Sachs said. "It was sort of central to the kind of movie we were making, which is a movie that's not obsessed with but is interested in the nature of movies, and the history of movies, and the pleasures of that. One of the things that's happening now is that television tends to be the place people go to for identification in their lives, and movies [are] where people go to for escape. And there's a level in which you need to somehow accept that that's true and give certain things in a movie."

Fair enough -- that's Sachs' prerogative. Still, for a filmmaker who seems interested in utilizing storytelling techniques just to use them as well as to provide familiarity and relatability for a movie audience, Sachs also misses the benefit of genre commitment. Married Life could have been more successful narrowed down as a film noir, a melodrama, a comedy -- anything. It might have been interesting if Sachs had creatively combined genres, as in the case of Scott's inspirational mix of science fiction and film noir in Blade Runner. Instead Married Life dodges convention and avoids any identification with genre -- which, for better or worse, is exactly the way Sachs seems to want it.

"It played on many different levels," Sachs said of Bingham's source novel. "It was a genre book, but we didn't end up necessarily making a genre movie. The idea and the sensibility of genre and the pleasures of genre were kinds of films that I related to both as entertainments and resonated to me personally."

Since Sachs is happy with how Married Life turned out, there probably won't be a director's cut 10 years from now, let alone a final cut in 25 years. But if down the line, Sachs realizes his film's mistakes, he could learn something from Blade Runner: The Final Cut, a new, crisp, visually tweaked, digitally remastered and restored version of the 1982 film. The latest revision is barely altered compared to the 1992 cut, which had been a remarkable change from the film's original release. Scott has erased some wires here, cleaned up some goofs there and updated some special effects -- basically all the good things George Lucas did for the Star Wars special editions without attempting ill-conceived additions. There was one re-shoot involved, but it is seamless enough that if you don't know about it, you may not catch it. The true beauty of the cut, which the NYFF is showing in high-def video, is that it looks so perfect it's hard to believe the film is 25 years old.

Posted at September 24, 2007 7:01 AM

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