Monday, September 17, 2007
Motorcycle Meets Mercedes
At some point early in EASTERN PROMISES, the new film from David Cronenberg, there’s a shot of a Mercedes backing up next to a parked motorcycle. Something about the texture of the shot, in how it clearly represents two particular people who are about to enter each other’s worlds, stood out to me. Immediately I was reminded that I was watching a film made by a director with the clear command to make a shot of a car parking about much more than simply about that car parking. Of course, I thought to myself. That’s Cronenberg.
Naomi Watts plays Anna Khitrova, a midwife at a London hospital who is present as a teenage girl dies while giving birth to a baby. Discovering the girl’s diary, which is written in Russian, Anna seeks to find out what happened to the girl and her quest to get it translated leads her to a Russian restaurant which serves as a front for an Eastern European crime family. Viggo Mortensen plays Nikolai Luzhin, a driver for the family who also performs certain other functions.
I don’t want to say too much about EASTERN PROMISES just yet, partly because it hasn’t opened wide and partly because I want to see it again to sort out certain elements in my head. How it fits into his continuing body of work is something that will become more clear on repeat viewings and I look forward to them. For now, I’ll simply say it’s very, very good. Following Cronenberg’s career trajectory for the past twenty-plus years has been extremely rewarding and at times frustrating. One thing which seems evident is that this film paired with A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE feels like the director has begun a new stage in the ongoing transformation of his cinematic style. It’s enticing and thrilling to watch. The leads feel locked into their roles in a way that is rare these days—Mortensen is particularly excellent as his work here contains a level of nuance that makes it feel like it shouldn’t even be called ‘acting’. I don’t know what the word is, but it just feels like what he does here is on another level altogether. It’s not the sort of showy role that wins awards but is infused with an awareness of what his craft should be, and so often isn’t, that is undeniable. The film also contains one sequence, set in a Turkish bath, which has to be considered an instant classic. That’s all I’m going to say for now.