TheBridge_Corner_10__BUG_Vchip_FXWEB_2500_1280x720_31701059516

After hearing so many raves about the 10-episode long Danish-Swedish series, Bron/Broen (The Bridge, 2011), I did what most Americans are forced to do to see it: I watched it online. It was worth every minute of watching it on a laptop screen and reading sub-standard subtitles (which read a little bit like a very early and quite comical version of Google Translate). The acting was stellar; the dynamic between the Swedish detective Saga (Sofia Helin) and Danish detective Martin (Kim Bodnia) was one of the best versions of a buddy-cop relationship I’d seen in a long time; and the show’s central concept — a dead body found exactly midway on the bridge connecting the two countries — allowed for a riveting diagnosis of the social problems in those two countries.

So when I heard that the US channel FX planned to remake the series but situate it on the border between the US and Mexico, well, YES.

TheBridge__CriticQuote_30_TON_FXWEB_2500_1280x720_36756547921

The story opens with a body found dead in the middle of a bridge that crosses between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The two detectives who arrive at the scene — one from each country — find that the killer sliced the body clean in half. The subsequent autopsy reveals an additional wrinkle: the top half, belonging to an xenophobic US judge, doesn’t match the bottom half.

“White arms, brown legs,” comments the El Paso detective, Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), with characteristic unemotional precision. She gradually permits the Chihuahua State Police detective Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir, the star of the wonderful A Better Life) to work with her, particularly after he explains that the “brown legs” belonged to one of the hundreds of Juárez women murdered along the border every year.

the-bridge

So far I have several thoughts:

The storyline follows the original religiously. Thus, viewers like me who fell in love with Saga and Martin and were riveted by certain plot elements (the reporter getting trapped in his own car) will find not much to be surprised by in the plot so far.

What’s truly original here is the view of life on the border, particularly in Juárez, which is one of the most violent places in the world. (Maybe, as some have claimed, the most violent outside of open war zones.) I’ll watch every episode as a result with the hope that this unique setting ultimately changes the narrative in fresh ways. Juárez is a site for both the border drug trade and the fabulously lucrative maquilas (factories) that offer comparatively high wages to Mexican workers, thus attracting huge numbers of people to the region and making it deeply unstable. It’s about time we gave some cultural attention to the border in this way.

THE BRIDGE - Pictured: (L-R) Diane Kruger, Demian Bichir. CR: FX NetworkOne of the things I loved about the original was its treatment of Saga’s place on the autism spectrum. By treatment I mean the characters never said anything explicit. Saga’s probable Asperger syndrome revealed itself gradually over the course of the entire season without ever putting a name to it or fitting her into a tidy box. The original made Saga a true individual, not a set of symptoms or a condition described in the DSM-IV.

The original character had a delicious knack for social gaffes, but in my eyes the show didn’t play them for laughs or to claim she was a naïf. Rather, they highlighted Saga’s independence from and utter disinterest in the social niceties to which women are typically chained. (I’m curious whether any of you disagree or found her character to grate on your nerves — if so, let me know why you found it problematic.)

tumblr_m451hzx2uq1r5565fo1_500Whether abruptly asking men in bars, “Do you want to have sex at my place?” or equally abruptly kicking them out of bed when she’s done, Saga was the most unexpectedly wonderful character I’d seen in years. She did it all with a confident forthrightness that made me love her. The great drama of the series rested on how Saga had to stretch herself beyond her usual personal rules and patterns, largely in response to her new partner — but also how she remained utterly herself throughout, which constituted her great strength and weakness all in one. The portrayal of Saga was downright feminist, and more important she was truly three-dimensional.

You can see why I fell in love with the series.

The-Bridge-04-Diane-Kruger-Demian-Bichir

In contrast, the American show seems to feel eager to label (and doesn’t that capture all that is unsubtle about Americans?). Here, Sonya’s awkwardness, rigid adherence to rules, and lack of empathy have already been hammered on as “different” after only a single show. Le sigh.

On the other hand, I like Kruger and Bichir a great deal in these roles, even though/ due to the fact that they’re both preposterously good-looking, even more so than the beautiful Helin in the original. Kruger’s accent works most of the time (she’s German but does well with American accent) and the far more natural actor, Bichir, flows between Spanish and English in a way that won’t alienate viewers who are allergic to reading subtitles for the Spanish bits. Whereas the Swedish actress in the original series had been wide-eyed in a way that signaled her lack of interest in others’ emotions, Kruger looks more distrustful and hostile.

the-bridge-620x238The filming and cinematography of the US series is downright beautiful and infinitely more stylized than the Swedish-Danish original. The pilot was directed by Gerardo Naranjo, whose film Miss Bala I enjoyed so much earlier this spring (if anyone understands the drug war, it’s Naranjo). The shots of that rangy part of the Chihuahuan desert and the haunting scenes of street life in Juárez feel real.

So I have high hopes for the American version of The Bridge, despite the fact that my fellow fans of the Scandinavian original are not going to be surprised by these early episodes. Nevertheless, I have hope that it permits its border setting to affect the narrative even more as the series progresses. Considering that the US version has stretched out the story to 12 episodes, it would seem that the writers have plenty of room in which to develop fresh and location-specific material. 

At the creepy end of this pilot episode, an anonymous voice asks, “There are five murders a year in El Paso; in Juárez, thousands. Why? Why is one dead white woman more important than so many dead just across the bridge? How long can El Paso look away?” YES. This is the question that has managed for so long to remain beyond the people most capable of addressing those inequities. How wonderful to find it on basic cable in the US.

dQVtZTL

And hey, I get to look at Bichir on a weekly basis. Sure, he plays shlubby, but we know he’s movie-star handsome right away, ‘stache or no ‘stache. All is not lost in the re-run aspects of the show. And as the always-on-target Alyssa Rosenberg put it in her review, how wonderful is it to find “a television show that presents women and men as highly effective colleagues and potentially good friends, without defaulting to conventional romantic narrative arcs”?

In the meantime, can Scandinavian friends find a way to get season 2 of Bron/Broen online for me? Please?

Advertisements

My eccentric Oscar ballot

26 February 2012

Here’s why I always lose Oscar betting pools with my friends: I try to make the Oscars about something bigger.

For example: I truly don’t understand why The Descendants gets so much love. It’s the story of a rich guy who’s selling off thousands of acres of pristine land so he and his family can phenomenally richer — and all of this when unemployment was still at 9% or whatever … well, you can appreciate why I get cranky about things.

I was also nonplussed by last year’s Up in the Air. We’re in the midst of a financial crisis and I’m supposed to emote on behalf of the dude who goes around firing people? It’s gonna have to be a goddamn fantastic film to get me over that obstacle.

Don’t worry: this post has its eyes on the actual nominees, not the films that didn’t get noticed (but how did Take Shelter not get a single nomination?).

Best Actor and Actress: in which I apply the “99% rule,” aka “redistribute the wealth.”

Critics seem to be guessing that George Clooney will win this, according to some kind of logic that we all like the guy and he’s been doing good work. I say that sounds like an old boys’ club if I ever heard one; this is why that “good guy” at work gets promoted and you don’t.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Clooney. I love love him. But I don’t think he’s the best actor of the year, and certainly not for this film. The award should probably go to Jean Dujardin, who was effervescent in a lovely (and better) film. I’ll be delighted if Dujardin wins.

But because I’m feeling contrarian, I’m rooting for Demián Bichir — the stellar Mexican actor who’s so unknown in the U.S. he’s not even a dark horse in this category; the guy who appears as an undocumented worker just trying to make a better life for his kid in L.A. Bichir’s character is so much a member of the 99% that he’s practically off the map — and that’s why he should win Best Actor.

Look, A Better Life wasn’t great. Neither was The Help or The Iron Lady, for that matter. C’mon, members of the Academy — look beyond your white, male, privileged bubbles to the world around you, even just that guy who cuts your grass, and vote for something beyond yourselves.

Using the same logic, my Best Actress choice is Viola Davis, who gives a stellar performance in a pretty crappy film. It’s impossible to compare her role to Meryl Streep’s — Streep dominates virtually every scene in The Iron Lady and shows off so many virtuoso chops that Streep almost looks like a little rich kid surrounded by presents at Christmas. Davis, meanwhile, is so much a part of an ensemble production that she might well have been relegated to the Supporting Actress category.

But you know what? No matter how disappointing was The Help, we’ll remember Davis. She’s just so good — so transcendent in a sea of embarrassing writing and directing — and her kind of goodness is important to the field of acting in 2012. 99%, bitchez!

Supporting Actress and Actor: in which I cast my all-LGBTQ vote.

What a year for the ladies! I’m so delighted with this field that I’m not sure where to go. Should I stick with my 99% rule and root for the magnificent Octavia Spencer? Should I stick with my Foreigners Deserve to Win Oscars rule and root for Bejo? (Well, that probably wasn’t going to happen, honestly.) Should I assert my Women Of All Sizes rule and root for McCarthy, who practically stole Bridesmaids out from under all those top-billed/ skinny women?

I’m going with my heart on this one, as well as with my own insight that 2011 was the Year of the Trans Ladies. Janet McTeer made Albert Nobbs — she was the real heart and soul of this film, raised the whole thing to a higher level, and was ridiculously hot as a man, to boot. This film has received less love than it should have; yeah, it felt a little bit more like something that would have been profound in 1982 but in 2011 feels like yeah, already. Like Bichir in A Better Life, you don’t get more marginalized than trans persons. But honestly, I’ll be happy with any one of these choices. Even better: they should give three Oscars — to Spencer, McCarthy, and McTeer.

Meanwhile, the men’s category seems less competitive to me. Christopher Plummer will — and should — win Best Supporting Actor for his work in Beginners as the father who comes out as an 80-year-old. ‘Nuff said.

Best Picture and Director: In which I wrestle with my own “degree of difficulty” rule.

I’m rooting for two titles: The Artist and Tree of Life. The former is the film I’ll want to see again and again. It’s a crystalline, lovely piece of romantic comedy and melodrama; I found it especially sweet for the way it earnestly wants to teach viewers how to fall in love with classic cinema. I vote for The Artist to take Best Picture.

On the other hand, The Tree of Life attempted a much higher degree of difficulty; like a great diver or ice skater, it took wild risks and didn’t succeed all the time, but what it did accomplish was remarkable: a tale of childhood and early pubescence more real than any I can remember seeing onscreen. If notions like “degree of difficulty” mattered to the Academy, that’s the film that should win.

So I’m splitting the difference: The Artist for Best Picture, and Terrence Malick to take Best Director (or vice versa) — and for these two categories to be split apart. 

Best Screenplay, Original and Adapted: in which I root for the foreigners and commit fully to losing the pool.

A Separation and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. 

The latter is just a beautiful film production — I can’t even imagine how hard it was to come up with a screenplay for this twisting novel that has already received a 7-part miniseries by the BBC in 1979. Starring Alec Guinness, no less. How do you get that down to a bankable 2 hours or so?

Don’t ask me, but Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan did it. Nailed it. (Bonus: an actual woman nominated for an Oscar behind the scenes!)

So if I’m so pro-lady, why am I not rooting for Wiig and Mumolo for Bridesmaids? Because A Separation is so spectacular that the former just seems slight in comparison. Also: Leila Hatami:

From all accounts, I’m going to lose on both scores; I’ve heard people guess that Midnight in Paris and The Descendants will take these categories. That’s too bad. The best I can say is that at least I’m prepared for disappointment.

Best Original Score: how can this go to anyone else?

Listen to this medley of nominations for Best Original Score and tell me if the one for The Artist doesn’t leap out as so memorable that it actually recalls specific scenes. Also: because I found the Kim Novak reaction to be absurd.

It’s not that the other scores aren’t nice and emotional; it’s just that the one for The Artist means more to the film. (Runner-up: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I loved its 1970s derivative, jazzy ambivalence, just like the film. The one for Hugo was okay too, but like the rest of that film, it felt over-cooked to me.)

Best Cinematography and Film Editing: 

Is it even possible for something other than The Tree of Life to win for Best Cinematography? I will throw an absolute fit if it doesn’t.

But in Film Editing, I’m more ambivalent. I think the truly Oscar-worthy editing jobs were overlooked in the nominations process — Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — so I’m left to wrangle with a disappointing list. Stuck between the rock of my frustration about how these nominations work, on the one hand, and the hard place of a group of films whose editing I didn’t notice as being tight and evocative, I choose The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Like Tinker Tailor, it took the tightest of editing to shape an expansive story to cram this into a watchable 2-hour film; it also demanded cuts and segues that forwarded the tale, evoked emotions with absolute efficiency. A couple of months later and I want to see David Fincher’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo again so I can pay even closer attention to what its editors, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, did to propel us through that story at such a clip.

****

There are other categories I’m not commenting on, obviously — a series of documentaries that are so lackluster in comparison to the ones that didn’t get nominated that I can barely breathe, categories I don’t really understand:

  • Why does costume design only get applied to period pieces? As Dana Stevens of Slate put it last year, the clothes worn by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in The Kids are All Right were so absolutely perfect; why isn’t that costume designer nominated for anything?

  • What does “Art Direction” mean — does this mean, for lack of a better term, some kind of unholy combination of “Stage Design” and “Location Specialist”? Or does it mean something else?
  • And while we’re on the subject: is there some kind of connection between Cinematographer and “Art Director”?
  • Why are there different categories for “Sound Editing” and “Sound Mixing”? Why isn’t this all just “Sound Editing”? Do I sound like an idiot for asking this question?
  • Why can’t I watch all the nominated short films on iTunes or some other service? (Here I go again with my complaints about access.)

Meanwhile, there’s the all-important issue of gowns. Please tell me that Leila Hatami will appear in something stunning, that Jessica Chastain wears something that shows off that strawberry hair, and that Janet McTeer wears a tuxedo.

Here’s hoping! and here’s hoping, too, that I don’t throw anything at the screen when Hugo wins everything in sight.