Saturday, July 07, 2012

It's All a Road Really Needs

There's a kind of deliciously plotless quality to 1967's Two for the Road. It's a movie about a married couple who run into trouble in their relationship a few years after they first fell quite in love. I'm not sure how long they'd been married, but judging from the ages of stars Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, it couldn't have been more than ten years. Them falling in love is a lot more convincing than their ruptures, though both actors convey differences in their characters adequately enough to quickly establish for a viewer what point in the relationship we're seeing in this film which is not told in a linear fashion, bunching up and juxtaposing the different stages of their rapport. There's a great deal of pleasure to be had watching these two roaming about beautiful French countryside with a dreamy yet fundamentally exciting Henry Mancini score.

The movie's directed by Stanley Donen, who'd previously directed Hepburn in Charade, which also had a great Mancini score. But the two movies are otherwise vastly different, and it's interesting to compare Two for the Road with Hepburn's 1964 film Paris When it Sizzles--the earlier film was a criticism of New Wave filmmaking, the 1967 film is a production clearly ready to acknowledge New Wave was there to stay and sets about to incorporate New Wave aspects while trying to maintain something of the reliable Hollywood formula. Stanley Donen, who got his big break co-directing Singin' in the Rain, may have been a suitable director for this sort of coordinated endeavour--I imagine if it'd been someone like Alfred Hitchcock or John Huston, the response to such an idea probably would've been a simple, "Fuck you, I'll just try and make a good movie like I always do." Which probably explains why audiences complained about how fake the gorgeous matte paintings in Marnie looked.

Anyway, although the movie is basically no more than a character study without traditional beginning, middle, and end threads, Donan feels compelled to fill it with plot waypoints--cars breaking down, people getting chicken pox, hotel food being unreasonably expensive. These things are too often relied upon to explain the difficulties in the relationship of the married couple. Being external they do little to explain the character motivations. Their impending split feels consequently incredibly superficial--she wants to leave because he spends too much time with his work, he wants to leave because he believes men should be free.

William Daniels and Eleanor Bron play a very broad, progressive couple who believe in permitting their obnoxious daughter total freedom. They are kind of funny, but mostly they feel like a fruitless detour--the example they provide of marriage I guess is to explain some of Hepburn and Finney's dislike of the idea, but it's just too broad, and seems too influenced by an ill-considered criticism of contemporary parenting techniques.

But the best parts of the movie easily override this stuff, which is Finney and Hepburn walking in the rain, taking shelter in cement tubes, swimming, rigging themselves a mosquito net in a hotel room. This stuff is fun, it really makes you want to go on vacation with them.

Wikipedia quotes this letter Audrey Hepburn sent to Henry Mancini before production began;

Dearest Hank: Please won't you do the music for "Two for the Road", the Stanley Donen picture I am now doing with Albert Finney? It is the best script I have ever had, wonderfully tender, funny and romantic. Can't imagine anyone else but you scoring. I am at Hotel La Pinede Saint Tropez, France. All my love to you both. Audrey.

Can you imagine any modern actress writing a letter to a film composer, hoping he'd score a movie for her? I love Audrey Hepburn.

I was thinking about it. She's really not sexy, I always imagined she'd look like a holocaust victim naked, though her thighs in this movie have more meat than I'd have expected.

She just has this wonderful thin skinned quality, the sort of gasping cry she does when things go wrong sounds so exactly like heartbreak and there's an extraordinarily effective quality to her joy as well. She was unique.

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