Let's Go to the Movies

Just a Sigh

They glimpse one another on the train. They are traveling from Calais to Paris. He is a literature teacher from England going to a funeral. She is an actress going to audition for an Ibsen play.

Their eyes frequently meet during the trip. As they leave the station, she overhears him asking directions to the Basilica of Ste. Clotilde.

Emmanuele Devos, 39, plays Alix, Gabriel Byrne, 63, plays Douglas. The chemistry between them is vivid and believable. After her audition, with much uncertainly and without much cash, she finds herself going to the church where the funeral is being held. Douglas is one of the mourners.

After the service, they exchange a few awkward words. Thereafter, they stroll through Paris, spend the rest of the day and night getting to know one another. We learn their history, heartbreaks, and fragilities.

It cannot last, they must depart, neither wants to. He asks her to come to England with him. She would like to. But she is pregnant and has a boyfriend in Paris. We sigh, they sigh, “Just a Sigh,” a beautiful film and touching story.

Queen to Play

I first saw Queen to Play (Joueuse) about five years ago. It is a French film about talent, about discovering your talent and how it often occurs by chance. Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire) works as a chambermaid at a posh hotel on the island of Corsica. One day she notices a young couple playing chess on the balcony, flirting with every move. It is a seductive scene that leads Helene to try to revive her marriage by giving her husband a chess set for his birthday.

He has no interest in the game and so Helene begins to teach herself how to play. In the afternoon she also has a part-time job cleaning the home of a Dr. Kroger (Kevin Kline), where she notices a chess set is prominently displayed. She volunteers to clean his home, without pay, if he will give her chess lessons.

They start to play and eventually she begins to beat him. Meanwhile, in her obsession with the game she plays constantly—at home in the middle of the night, at the hotel mopping the black and white tile floors, on a chessboard in her mind’s eye.

Dr. Kroger tells her she has a rare gift for the game, a natural talent that can’t be taught, that a few people have and most don’t. He encourages her to enter a local contest. She hesitates, finally enters, and ends up winning the tournament. The film ends as she is taking the boat from Corsica on her way to Paris to enter the French national championship.

Queen to Play is a charming, amusing fairy tale, thoroughly refreshing in a season of utterly tasteless films.

Wendy and Lucy

She is walking by railroad tracks with her dog. She is Wendy (Michelle Williams), the dog is Lucy and together they are the subjects of the film, Wendy and Lucy. They meet a group of vagabonds who appear to be slightly drunk. They ride the trains once in a while.

Other than that, we know nothing about Wendy except that she is heading in her old Honda to Alaska. She doesn’t have much money, goes into a small market in a small Oregon town, stuffs a doughnut in her pocket and is caught by a young clerk. Taken to the manager’s office, Wendy apologizes, then hauled off to jail for a few days.

Lucy had been tied to a post outside the market and when Wendy is released from jail she returns to find her missing. Her car can’t start. Across the street is a mechanic who tells her what it will cost to fix everything wrong with the car. When it’s completed, she can’t afford to pay for it and walks away from the car.

The rest of the film she searches for Lucy, walking everywhere, visits the pound day after day or calling them. A friendly police officer sees her comings and goings, offers her the use his phone. Eventually the pound calls to tell her where Lucy is.

She walks over to the house, sees Lucy in a fenced yard, they greet each other gleefully, tears begin to roll down Wendy’s face, as she realizes what she must do. She leaves, walks away, and hops aboard an open boxcar on the train passing by.

This is the story of Wendy and Lucy. Nothing more, but Wendy’s expressive face, even if it’s rarely expresses much of anything. The tale is heartbreaking, a film I will never forget.

Wendy hasn’t dropped out of life, but life has given her nothing but grief. She doesn’t have a friend, loses the only thing she loved, doesn’t have a job, doesn’t search for one, all she wants to do is get to Alaska where there is money in the salmon canning factories.

We very much want her to, it’s too late to turn back, but we sense her wish is a pipe dream. Luck rarely comes to the Wendys of the world, Wendys who begin with nothing and spend the rest of their life trying to find just a little something.