Friday, December 2, 2011

Film Pairing — Mysteries About Mystery Writers

Getting inside the head of a crime writer may not be easy. It may not even be worthwhile. It is what they write that counts. Even so, we cannot help but have questions about the process. What makes a story intriguing enough to want to put it down on paper? And what, assuming there is something beyond the usually paltry amounts of money, motivates the writer to do what he or she does?

Both of the films in this double feature have something to do with those questions. Getting satisfactory answers is something else. You have to do more than just watch these two. They are not pleasantly simple-minded escape (and I love pleasantly simple-minded escapes). You must think about them to make them rewarding experiences. One of the two non-mainstream films Swimming Pool — will likely require interpretation. And I suspect there is no right answer. The other — The Secret in Their Eyes — demands a bit of patience and analytical thinking. It is more of a study than a satisfyingly wrapped-up mystery — though it is that too. These films, about crime writers, while they have abundant explicitness, requisite violence and appropriate intrigue, are more than the sum of the crimes and the solving of them.

The Secret in Their Eyes features a retired criminal investigator in Buenos Aires. He decides to write a crime novel based on an unsolved case that has haunted him — a young, newly married wife is brutally raped and murdered. The investigator strongly identifies with the depth of the husband’s love for his wife and the misery that he has to bear at the loss. However, to write his novel, the investigator must take another look at the crime. He must go back, check out past suspects and re-engage with the grieving husband. The inspector discovers much more than he bargained for and not just about the murder.

In the Swimming Pool a middle-aged British writer, who writes a popular, lightweight mystery series is having trouble coming to terms with her empty life and to some extent, an empty creative bucket. While she may not be happy with the quality of her work, her publisher is quite happy with the money she brings in and wants her to keep writing. He attempts to humor her by sending her off to his pleasant summer home in the South of France, where she is to relax and hopefully revive her creative energy enough to write another book in the popular series. However, it appears that the publisher’s daughter has plans for her father's villas as well. Both the writer and the daughter are surprised at the other’s presence. They try to make the best of it, but the daughter’s hedonistic ways crash against the writer’s brittle and seemingly prudish outlook. Charlotte Rampling plays the writer in search of fulfillment or, at least a satisfying tale to tell. She finds it. And we have a murder. Or do we?

Mystery writers might recognize that the films address the most frequent question writers are asked at book signings and conferences: “Where do you get your ideas?” And to the writers, the movies are about people like you and me.

You’ll need to remain clearheaded for these two. So I suggest you sip on something non-alcoholic at least for the first film. By the time you sit beside the swimming pool in sunny France, open up a bottle of cool, white Bordeaux and prepare to be tantalized.

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