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Friday, January 11, 2013

The Deep Blue Sea and Rachel Weisz Q&A

On Jan. 8th, I went to a screening at The Museum of the Moving Image to see a screening of The Deep Blue Sea, directed by Terrence Davies, a drama that was hailed as one of the best films of 2012. I went because actress Rachel Weisz was going to be there for a Q&A after the film, and she is one of my favorite actresses. The Shape of Things, The Mummy, Constantine, Definitely, Maybe, and Stealing Beauty have been my favorite films of hers. So I went, and the film was unlike anything I had seen in recent years. The story itself is not new (a cheating wife takes up with her lover because she is bored in her marriage), but the film, set in London in 1950, deliberately looks like a drama from the 1950s, with music cues, filming techniques, and a romantic post-war story.

The film begins by a slow pan over an English house to the window where the heroine Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) is standing, with sweeping orchestral music, and a grainy, soft cinematography that makes the film look like much more of a period piece than I've seen before. The film has a blue quality to it, mimicking the sad mood of Hester, as, after romantic flashbacks with her RAF pilot lover Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), she attempts suicide, trying to end what has been a complicated and upset life for her under a British repressed society.

The film takes great advantage of sound, with the absence of background music save for the opening score, highlighting the boredom and staleness of the stiff upper-crust society. A particular example of this is, while the clock continually ticks, when her mother in-law is put off by something Hester said, she just responds primly with "That was almost offensive."  Sound can also signify change. When Hester is caught by her husband declaring her love to Freddie over the phone, the bell ring of the phone back in its cradle is like a death knell on their marriage, if in name only.

The film takes its inspiration from 1940s dramas like The Heiress, Brief Encounter, and Now, Voyager, all centering on strong-willed, independent-minded women who are going through nearly insurmountable drama. The film also reminded me of Todd Haynes' film Far From Heaven, in which he paid homage to Douglas Sirk films of the 1950s with his color scheme, cinematography choices, and centering on an unhappy housewife who is repressing her full-bodied sexuality.

I do not want to analyze the film too much, because I know that it is well-worth seeing, peeling layers like an onion, with new revelations and tragic consequences of Hester's actions. One of the most incredible scenes in the film is a flashback that Hester has to the Blitz in London circa 1940, where Londoners are huddled together in a subway station as bombs come down on the city. They are joined together through wartime, and summoning up enough courage to sing the Irish anthem "Molly Malone" in unison. The camera pans from the train tunnel, where the singer belts out this song, to along the platform, with dozens of people seeking shelter from the hellfire above, and it is a tracking shot that I was holding my breath during, it was powerful to behold.

Rachel Weisz is an excellent actress, who disappears into her roles, and finds ways to play strong and determined women with emotional abandon and fearlessness, in films like The Constant Gardener, Agora, and The Whistleblower. But similarly amazing, and new to fame, is Tom Hiddleston, best known for playing Loki in Thor and The Avengers. He has an incredible emotional range, where Freddie's personality can go from being a likable and charming young man who regales his friends with stories of his bravery during WWII, to being absolutely distraught by Hester's attempted suicide and the reasoning behind it, to becoming a cold and hurtful man when faced with Hester's betrayal. He could bring more human frailty to the role, and playing it more as a theater actor (as the film was adapted from a play by Terrence Ratigan) than a movie role, which spoke volumes to the audience. His performance has to be seen to be believed, and any memories of him as the vampy villain Loki will be dashed upon this role.

After the film, Rachel Weisz came out to speak. She looked very cute in her matching brown dress and heels, and was a delightful personality, very intelligent, thoughtful, with at both a reserved and charming personality. She joked about Terrence, saying "He really hasn't seen any films in color," and is a big fan of old B&W films. He found Rachel from watching the film Swept by the Sea, and didn't know who she was. But since Rachel does have a romantic beauty to her combined with a fierce intelligence, she would fit well as a heroine for him.

She spoke about how Terrence loves symmetry, and in the scene where her husband discovers her infidelity, he directed her not to overact or have a big emotional scene, but to "just sit with your back to the camera, and just slightly turn your neck." It is incredibly precise, and the minute detail just draws out the uncomfortable silence of the moment.

Rachel described Hester as "fire being constrained," and that she tries to hold on to a love that she knows is impossible. In my opinion, Hester doesn't seem to know what she wants, and even when she has her romantic young lover after her marriage to her older husband is ruined, she still isn't happy, as if expecting more. She is a product of the times, raised to be obedient with few options in life, and explodes because she doesn't have a healthy outlet for her passions and desires.

The film didn't have a rehearsal, it was filmed in 25 days, with a passionate atmosphere about working with Terrence, that everybody wanted to be there. She spoke about how it is "more interesting to play someone passionate," and that Terrence's direction would lead her to "emotionally undress everyday." The setting of the film, and the stillness of the moments really allowed the film to capture the period of time, free of modern-day speeds or anachronistic sayings.

I didn't go into this film with any expectations, but was blown away by how stunning and sad it was. It was an excellent film that truly captured the period and society that it depicted, and I am happy that I got to see one of my favorite actresses in person. Hopefully I will get to attend more screenings and Q&As at Moving Image to see more artists who I admire.

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