Saturday, 3 March 2012

How to end a movie

Compare and contrast: ‘A Separation’ and ‘The Well Digger’s Daughter’. Two more contrasting films it would be difficult to imagine. Iranian social realism v French romantic nostalgia. True grit or soft focus. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both. I emerged from A Separation physically and emotionally drained; I came out of The Well Digger’s Daughter with a smile on my lips and a rosy glow on my cheeks. They are both good films and A Separation is possibly a great one. In the informal post screening debates (one of the best bits of Borderlines) there were some who said that WDD was ‘too romantic’. This is a bit like saying that grass is too green or that Ronseal does what it says on the tin. Of course it’s too romantic. It’s French! It’s romantic! What did you expect?
Where WDD may have missed a trick was in the ending, where they could have added an element of sad wistfulness without ditching any of the romanticism. WDD has now finished its run so I think I can reveal that the opportunity missed was the rather risible return of the war hero, dapper and unlined, having survived crashing his aircraft in flames behind enemy lines. In the risibility stakes, this is admittedly pretty poor fare. The moment in ‘Downton Abbey’ where the war hero leaps athletically from his wheelchair when his feeble fiancée is unable to carry the weight of a tea tray – now that’s what I call risibility. You could win a BAFTA with that.
So WDD may score modestly, risibility wise, but the fact remains that the film was just coming to a satisfactory end, with the reconciliation of divided families and fathers and daughters, when the hero returns to tie up loose ends and ensure that everyone lives happily ever after. Leave the lad in some foreign field that is forever Provence I say. The End. Fin. It’s a wrap.
Take a lesson from A Separation. No romance here, or easy answers, or you could argue no answers at all. But they knew how to end the film. It won’t spoil the film to tell you that there is a heartbreaking choice to be made at the end. After two hours of ambiguity, I (as the man in seat D5) wanted to know the answer. The movie director in me (as if) was screaming ‘end the film NOW!’ And right on queue, the credits rolled……

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