Sunday, December 18, 2005

Highly Dissimilar Films

Following the excitements of the Fulbright meeting (well, all right, it wasn’t that exciting of a meeting, but it had its moments, and those of us who haven’t been teaching got to learn how bad attendance is in many schools)… some of us decided it was time to go to the movies. Ideally, I suppose, we would have gone to Czech films, but Jesse and I had been wanting to see the new Harry Potter movie, so we headed over to the Slovanský Dům complex where one can often find non-dubbed versions of major releases.

I had seen the third Harry Potter film at Slovanský Dům last summer with Štěpanka’s son Michael, but I don’t think I had quite realized how large a place it actually is. I still may not know. It has several floors of theaters, with about ten screening rooms in the basement alone. I don’t think I saw any movies at all in Communist Czechoslovakia, so I have no way of comparing present to past except that I am certain that there weren’t multiplexes here at all then.
On the whole, we thought the film was pretty good. The three lead actors continue to do a remarkable job; I don’t know how they manage to sustain and develop their characters for year after year unless they have simply been brainwashed into becoming Harry, Ron, and Hermione. One does worry that being child stars will warp their characters, but I confess that I selfishly hope they can keep up the good work indefinitely.
Since the novels become increasingly complex and of course rely increasingly on one having read the previous installments, each movie must be more of a challenge to script. More and more things have to be left out or ruthlessly abbreviated. This was rather noticeable. The opening Quidditch match is pretty important and well developed in the novel, but isn’t really dealt with properly in the film and should probably have been scrapped. Likewise, Barty Crouch isn’t given enough space in the film and his death seems like a footnote—not that I’m sure how he could have been better handled. (I am glad not to be writing movie adaptations of novels, as no one is ever satisfied by even the best attempts.)
Still, one cannot carp too much. The movie overall is beautifully designed, the acting is as always nearly uniformly excellent, the characters develop as they age, and there is plenty of suspense. (Although why the intermission was put at the end of the bath scene is a mystery. It gives the impression that the ghost Moaning Myrtle seduces the unwilling Harry, which is a disagreeable and pointless thing to worry about over an entire intermission.)
After leaving the theater, it occurred to us that Hubert had SMS’d us in the morning about another film, which he had mentioned the night before. We had some doubts, but were soon joining Hubert at Světozor to see Cafeh Zahedi’s autobiographical documentary I am a Sex Addict.
Hubert had seen this film before when he and the filmmaker were residents at the McDowell colony. Jesse and I were skeptical about following Harry Potter with anything about prostitution, but while the overall topic and intent were serious, the presentation was by and large pretty funny. It is not an easy film to describe, but by using a very self-conscious narrative style, with re-enactments of various events in his life, Zahedi manages to tell the story of how he became obsessed with prostitutes and eventually realized that this was a real problem. The three of us were intrigued from beginning to end (although of course we also like anything that makes us laugh frequently). Still, I’m not sure I would recommend that anyone follow our lead in watching both Harry Potter and I am a Sex Addict in the same day.

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