Monday, April 30, 2007:

Vanya and Julia

Vanya pretends she is called Julia, pretends she wasn't born where she was, pretends she doesn't look how she does, pretends she's graceful and witty, glamorous and poised. Yet she is not ugly, not dull-witted, not socially incompetent; what she is is self-conscious. She spends her spare time composing a soundtrack to a film that's never been made, a film she imagines as a musical Amelie, though her deepest convictions will lead it astray.

Opening credits: a woman in her mid-30s in an overcoat, dress, and heavy shoes, walking down a snowy sidewalk. An immediate sign that the film is more expressionist than realist: the buildings in the background are all missing their facades as Vanya passes them. Inside each apartment the people go about their daily business, apparently oblivious to their exposure: a mother playing peekaboo with her toddler; a woman in curlers at the stove, smoking as she fries liver and onions; a man doing pushups, the TV blaring behind him; a couple in bed in flagrante delicto; a young man in bed flat on his stomach, holding a pillow over his head. Vanya walking down the sidewalk, a distant look in her eyes.

Waiting at the bus stop: Vanya pines for Stefan yet he pays all his attention to Dora. Dora: bold, beautiful, flashy, flirtatious, the kind of girl with a reputation.

Listening to the seemingly random bleats and blats of traffic, Vanya begins to sing her frustration: what's a woman to do, and maintain her dignity? How can you compete with women who don't? She imagines herself Julia again.

The sound of traffic merges into muted trumpet and tuba and drums and triangle, the people at the bus stop nodding in rhythm; pedestrians accenting the downbeats; passing traffic in both lanes joining in, bicyclists and cab drivers and businessmen all together singing "Stefan: come to your senses." She is Julia, taking the lead, respectable, well-dressed, and intelligent. The song dies and the fantasy dies with it, and then she's just Vanya waiting for a bus.

End credits: Vanya and Stefan paying the bill and leaving the cafe together, Vanya with a quizzical, half-sad smile. The music longs for the whimsical chintziness of Herb Alpert; feels itself pulled towards the mournful dissonance of Sketches of Spain: what to do when you've got what you want and are no longer sure you want it? Isn't achievement supposd to lead to happiness?
[Last Balkan Tango and @ emusic which, in spite of its crummy user interface, is increasingly coming to seem like a public service.]
[Queens & Kings and @ emusic]
[The Promise and @ emusic]

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