Genre: Drama/Comedy Director: Todd Solondz Cast: Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds, Allison Janney, Charlotte Rampling, Paul Reubens, Ally Sheedy, Michael Lerner Runtime: 1 hr 38 mins Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes and Some Mature Content) Released By: Cathay-Keris Films Official Website: http://www.wercwerkworks.com/projects/lifeduringwartime
Opening Day: 9 August 2012
Synopsis: In writer and director Todd Solondz's part sequel/part variation on his acclaimed film HAPPINESS, three sisters and the people they love struggle to find their places in an unpredictable and volatile world where the past haunts the present and imperils the future. The question of forgiveness and its limits threads throughout a series of intersecting love stories, offering clarity and, perhaps, alternatives to the comforts of forgetting.
There are many reasons to make films. Some are visually driven pieces meant to entertain everyone. Some are fantastical pieces meant to realise beautiful visions of a future world. And yet others are tales that simply wish to inspire us. On the isolated occasion, you get something that still stands to share the simple stories of what it means to live as a good person, specifically to forgive people for their flaws and forget their wrongdoings. Such a virtue is genuinely rare to celebrate alone, much less in tandem with a film.
Life During Wartime charts the whimsical and often farcical adventures of self-discovery between sisters Trish, Joy and Helen. Trish starts to find new love in an Israeli after ex-husband Bill is sent to prison for child molestation. She has been feeding her 3 children with lies of their father’s death but problems arise when Bill returns to visit his children after his release. Joy has become estranged from fiancé and former cocaine addict Allen and is having visions of Andy, a co-worker who committed suicide after dating her. Helen has cut ties from family and become a successful screenwriter.
To be sure, the film deals with a very skeletal plot despite what the less than digestible cast of characters might suggest. Instead Director Todd Solondz builds an assortment of self-contained scenarios and ties them into something remotely resembling a narrative. It’s not an approach that will appeal to everyone but he drives it with a confidence in the fact that the virtue he’s trying to sell carries its own meaningful narrative. It’s a notion that’s enjoyed by placing characters in the most brutally dreadful situations and maneuvering them away with cruelly honest and astutely self-aware dialogue.
Broaching a subject like forgiving and forgetting eventually takes a toll on the film, unfortunately. It’s a concept that’s interesting to paint in broad strokes yet so thin that a little bit of fade is unavoidable. Interspersing the less interwoven portions of the film with long, painfully quiet moments in which characters perform the most mundane activities isn’t completely unreasonable, but better restrain would have been preferred over an agonizing pace that detracts from the experience.
Like many films of its ilk, this experience owes its merits to a fine balance between simply sharing the good side of humanity and relentlessly forcing the lessons onto the audience. So it’s at least a little disturbing that Todd colours the later parts of the film in a far more sanctimonious hue, desperately pleading with the audience to accept that forgiving and forgetting is the only way to live as a good person. It won’t discourage you from wanting to believe what the film wants you to, but it could have been more prudent by leaving behind an ambiguous moral statement and trusting the audience with the freedom to decide whether that is indeed the best way to live.
For this reason, the earlier portions of the film are the best. It’s easy to see the film set out for a humble, noble purpose and discuss its subject in a manner that’s effortlessly enjoyable in bursts. But it eventually loses its way among its dense ambitions. With the issues that Life During Wartime tackles, however, it could get a lot worse. So let’s just forgive and forget its shortcomings and celebrate it for what it represents.
(Not the best piece about what it means to forgive and forget but it’s at least enjoyable in bursts)