Sunday, June 11, 2006

Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her

“Fantasies about Rebecca” (~30 minutes)
Written and Directed by Rodrigo García , USA, 2000
Source: Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, 109 minutes

Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her is four “slice-of-life” shorts about a variety of loosely connected women living in Los Angeles, threaded together by recurring images of birth, death, and the loneliness in between. The film opens with a quick glimpse of a detective (Kathy) at a crime scene, while a dead woman in a red dress lays on her bed. The first short, “This is Dr. Keener,” focuses on Dr. Keener (Glen Close) caring for her mom and trying to overcome loneliness. The next short, “Fantasies about Rebecca,” follows Rebecca (Holly Hunter, who was nominated for a 2001 Emmy for this role), a bank manager who discovers she is pregnant with her married lover’s child. “Someone for Rose,” introduces Rose (Kathy Baker), a children’s writer and single mother struggling with social/sexual awkwardness with a new neighbor. In “Goodnight Lilly, Goodnight Christine” Christine (Calista Flockhart) cares for her dying lover, Lilly (Valeria Gollino) in a very moving short. In “Love Waits for Kathy,” we return to detective Kathy (Amy Brenneman), who lives with her beautiful blind sister, Carol (Cameron Diaz). Kathy and a pathologist try to piece together the death of the woman in the opening scene, a high school classmate, while Walter, Rebecca’s coworker, takes advantage of Carol, who happens to be his blind daughter’s new tutor. (According to trivia, the braille book Carol and Walter's daughter are reading from is One Hundred Years of Solitude, a nod to the director's father, author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.)

“Fantasies about Rebecca” opens with a shot soft lighting and sultry music playing while Robert (Gregory Hines) kisses Rebecca’s back before leaving. We next cut to Rebecca taking a pregnancy test at work. Later, Rebecca is approached by Nancy, a bag lady who bums a cigarette and starts an interrogation in the bank parking lot. Nancy first asks if Rebecca’s a whore and then later accuses her of sleeping her way to the top at work. Rebecca is insulted, but let’s it slide. Nancy asks for the rest of the cigarettes and suggests Rebecca make one of the men buy new ones; they’ll be happy to because they surely fantasize about her anyway. Later, Rebecca asks her coworker Walter if the men fantasize about her and he replies, “I’m sure they do.”

At the doctor’s, while Rebecca learns she is six weeks pregnant, we learn that Robert is married and that their affair has stretched over the past three years. Rebecca seems calm about the pregnancy and requests an abortion. When Debbie, the doctor-friend, prods and tries to convince Rebecca to think it over, Rebecca resists and schedules the abortion for the earliest time the next afternoon. That night Robert stops by for a glass of wine; he doesn’t object to the abortion, only states he won’t be back in time to pick her up (that’s OK she says) before quickly changing the subject to draperies. There is a shot of their wine glasses together on the table and after Robert leaves, Rebecca is left eating by herself in the dark room. Her loneliness is palpable. Later that night, she spots Walter walking into a bar. She follows him, joins him for a drink and then sleeps with him. She leaves while he is sleeping.

The next morning they arrive at the bank at the same time. Walter hops into her car just as Nancy approaches. Among other things, Nancy accuses Rebecca of adultery and calls her “a sad bitch, a loooonely bitch” and then assures her, “It’s not that I don’t like you princess. I feel sorry for you.” Nancy tries to barge into the bank that afternoon, but a security guard pushes her out. When Rebecca leaves to get the abortion, she finds Nancy has left a cigarette carton with her own alleged wedding ring inside under the windshield wiper. After Rebecca’s abortion, performed by Dr. Keener in a quick scene punctuated with the mechanical clicking of metal surgical tools and Rebecca’s calming breaths and winces, Rebecca she leaves alone. In a long, heartbreaking shot, Rebecca starts walking away with a confident gait, but becomes weaker and stumbles into a bush where she finally allows herself to cry. This emotional breakdown is the most moving part of this vignette. For the first time we sense she may regret her decision or is at least overwhelmed by the situation. Once she composes herself, Rebecca continues walking and stops to cross the street. After watching the movie a second time, I got the chills when I realized a woman who stops behind Rebecca at the corner, for literally a second, is the woman walking in front of Dr. Keener’s house (in a blink at the very beginning of the film). She also happens to be carrying a red dress in a dry cleaner’s bag….soo I’m guessing she is the dead woman Carmen while she is still alive…or in ghost form. “Rebecca’s Fantasies” ends with Rebecca watching Nancy push her shopping cart across the street.

“Rebecca’s Fantasies” is an interesting short on its own because it explores the complexity of a seemingly cool, collected bank manager, who may be her coworker's fantasy, but in reality is lonely and and fragile. Though viewers and Rebecca want to dismiss Nancy as a lunatic, it becomes clear that she has some thought-provoking insights that hit a little too close to home. This segment fits in well with the other stories because there is the obvious recurring theme of loneliness (which isn’t limited to the women in this movie, the men are also lonely), as well as the notion that the lives of all of these women are much more complex, and sometime totally different, from what they may appear to be. These shorts are sometimes slow, and the story lines deceivingly simple, but like the women themselves, are actually quite complex and human. After watching them all a few times, I am convinced that every minute detail is calculated by Garcia as these subtle references, from the repetition of images, such as canaries or professions, such as writing, and casual references to common friends, these pieces are all pulled together at the end when their final scenes are interwoven with those of Kathy and Carol’s. These relationships with each other never seemed forced and each short was compelling on its own, with beautiful, if not sometimes haunting music and camera work. There was an alternately straight-forward and dream-like feel to the whole film.

I found it really interesting that we begin with the mystery of the dead woman, Carmen, and though the pathologist warns, “she’s not going to tell us all of her secrets,” during his initial evaluation and though Carol echoes these words “only a fool would speculate about the life of a woman, ” at the end, through the glimpses into the life of these other women, and the clues we have about Carmen, we can conclude that yes, we will never fully understand her story, her apparent suicide motives, but perhaps we have an idea of the roles she may have assumed before her own death: caretaker, mother, daughter, lover and the bittersweet aspects of each. So, yes, there are some things you can tell by just looking at "her," but a second or third glance may be just the beginning.

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