Brune Compagnon and Jacques Doillon, 1997

This movie won Victoire Thivisol the Best Actress award in the 1997 Skandies. She also won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. Victoire Thivisol was four years old.

Ponette is about a little girl in southern France whose mother dies in a car crash. Her young, overwhelmed father works in Lyon and can't take care of her on his own, so he packs her off to live with her aunt; when the school year starts, she and her cousins head off to boarding school, which seems very strange to me (kindergarteners in dorms?) but is treated as perfectly normal. And... that's the story, such as it is. It's basically an hour and a half of tiny children playing outside in the sunshine of southern France and having free-associative conversations with each other and with their various adult minders. Normally the lack of a plot would be a dealbreaker for me, but I was sufficiently taken by the way the dialogue summoned up my own playground chats from thirtysome years ago that I didn't much mind in this case.

I actually saw this movie on DVD not hugely long after it came out, but didn't get much out of it then. I completely missed one of the key themes of the film, which seemed obvious this time around, and quite trenchant. To wit: when the adults try to help Ponette come to terms with her mother's death by rambling incoherently about Jesus and God and Heaven, they sound exactly like the children babbling about magic words and flying mice. Viewed in this light, Ponette is an argument that most people handle the fact of mortality at the level of a four-year-old. Sounds about right.

As Good as It Gets
Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks, 1997

I don't like dogs. At least, I don't like small dogs. Labs and collies and huskies and the like are all right by me as long as they stay outside. And other canines don't bother me: I'm cool with wolves and foxes, and am downright fond of coyotes. But your spaniels, your setters, your beagles and boxers, your mastiffs, your terriers, your poodles and pugs, your schnauzers and shihtzus, your hounds of all descriptions, your bulldogs and weiner dogs and especially your little rat dogs... forget it. Just instinctive revulsion. One of the worst parts of having a job that takes me out to different people's homes is ringing the doorbell for the first time and hearing that frenzied "yip! yip! yip!" in response. Aw, shit. Gotta deal with this.

I started this article at the beginning of July, figuring I'd keeping adding movies to it and post when it reached a respectable length, but I've been really busy and here it is the end of the month already. In the meantime, dogs have been in the news, as a bunch of fundies are protesting plans to build a mosque down in Temecula. They announced a rally and urged teabaggers to come and bring Bibles, flags, and dogs. Why dogs? Because "The Islam's" [sic] "hate dogs!" The liberal blogs had a chuckle over that one. Silly xenophobes with their wacky generalizations! But...

...while I'm not one of them there "Islam's," my father is. When I was born, he'd been living in the U.S. for less time than I've been living in this apartment. And in retrospect, I gather that the compromise he'd worked out with my white American mother went something like this: our household would be a pretty mainstream American household up to the point that it directly transgressed against the culture in which he'd been raised. That really meant only two things: no pork, and no dogs. And so while I don't consider dogs ritually unclean or anything, I never became accustomed to them. I find their behavior and the appearance of most breeds repulsive, and am kind of horrified by the idea of having one in my house.

A story: I once had a student who had a pet snake. She said that the snake was sick and that she therefore had to keep an eye on it while we had our tutoring sessions, so every week I got to spent an hour and a half trying to convey the finer points of the GRE while a fucking serpent came slithering at me over and over again. When I tell this story people tend to shudder and remark upon how presumptuous she was to think that someone else would be as comfortable around her snake as she was. The thing is, I feel pretty much exactly the same way about dogs as I do about snakes. But when I tell similar stories about dogs, suddenly I'm a big jerk for not liking dogs. It's okay for people not to like everything you like!

Anyway, one of the nice things about having my own site rather than writing these things for some sort of media outlet is that I'm free to say, "I gave up on this movie after half an hour because I couldn't take any more of the fucking little rat dog."

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