The Russia House

 

Desde que la vi por primera vez, poco después de su estreno, en el año 91, sentí una inmediata fascinación por La Casa Rusia; una fascinación que, con el tiempo, se ha convertido en debilidad. He de admitir que, por aquel entonces, el atractivo físico que sentía por Michelle Pfeiffer casi me cortaba el aliento, de modo que es muy probable que mi incondicional adhesión a la película estuviese muy relacionada con este hecho; sin embargo, por supuesto, no era sólo eso. Hay algo en las buenas producciones que trasciende, de algún modo, a sus actores y que deja un poso de belleza en cualquier espíritu sensible; y La Casa Rusia tiene, desde luego, ese algo. Conste que no estoy diciendo que ahora ya no me sienta atraído por la Pfeiffer de entonces, sino que la película tiene bastantes más virtudes.

Desde aquel lejano día –veinte años largos ya– he tenido ocasión de verla varias veces más, tanto en su versión original como doblada, y nunca me ha defraudado. Creo, de hecho, que podría seguir viéndola esporádicamente hasta el fin de mis días sin arrepentirme nunca del rato invertido. Pero ¿qué es lo que tiene de tan especial para mí? No lo sé bien. Tal vez sea porque reúne buena parte de los valores que yo más aprecio. Es una historia de amor y de amistad, de fidelidades e idealismos; una historia que denuncia la mentira de los gobiernos, el sofisma de nuestras sociedades, y los enfrenta a las vidas de cada ciudadano. Transcurre, por otra parte, en dos de las ciudades que más me han asombrado a lo largo de mis viajes: San Petersburgo y Lisboa, representantes de los mundos luso y eslavo, espiritualmente tan similares. Además, a pesar de ser una ficción de espionaje, no resulta incomprensible: es fácil de seguir. Los diálogos son buenos, a veces brillantes, pero sin llegar a resultar inverosímiles. La fotografía es muy bonita, sin llegar a ostentosa; bella, mas sin distraer la atención del espectador. La interpretación de los actores quizá no es magnífica, pero sí, en cierto sentido, impecable.

Sin embargo, eso no es todo. Hay algo que ha estado ahí siempre, condicionando mi experiencia de verla, contribuyendo a complacerme, pero escondido; algo que sólo hoy creo haber descubierto. Y es que La Casa Rusia me resulta muy agradable de ver, me produce una especie de paz espiritual, porque en ella, a pesar de situarse durante la guerra fría, en un mundo de países enfrentados y potencias hostiles, ninguno de los personajes se me hace antipático. Todos resultan cálidos; todos están tratados desde un punto de vista muy humano, con todos soy capaz de identificarme. Dejando a un lado, obviamente, a los dos protagonistas, me hipnotiza la fuerza dramática del heroísmo de Dante, me conmueve la honestidad profesional de Russel, me cautiva el sentimentalismo de Ned y, en general, tanto los de un bando como los de otro se nos muestran desde un lado –como digo– humano; sin que por ello sea una de esas pretenciosas creaciones donde, a fuerza de querer ser objetivas, “no hay buenos ni malos”, sino más bien una donde sólo se nos muestra el lado bueno de cada personaje; enfoque que me parece mucho más honesto.

La Casa Rusia es en fin, para mí, un clásico. Una película equilibrada y redonda.

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Since I first watched it in the year 91, soon after its premiere, I felt an immediate fascination for The Russia House; a fascination that, in time, has become a weakness. I have to admit that, by then, I was so physically attracted to Michelle Pfeiffer that she almost left me breathless, therefore this fact was very likely related to my unwavering adherence to the movie. However, there wasn’t just that. Good films have something that goes beyond their actors and leaves a remainder of beauty in any sensitive soul; and The Russia House surely has that something. Mark: I don’t mean that now I’m not any more attracted to the Pfeiffer who was then, but that this movie offers me much more.

Since that distant day–more than twenty years off now–I’ve watched it several times, and I haven’t once felt disappointed. Actually, I believe I could keep watching it every other year till the end of my days and I’d always enjoy it. But… what is so special about it? I’m not sure; I’d say that this production aggregates a good deal of those values that I most appreciate. The Russia House is a story about love and friendship, allegiance and idealism; facing our governments’ lies, our societies’ sophisms, to the particular citizens’ lives. Besides, it takes place in two of my favourite cities that I’ve known during my trips, Lisbon and St. Petersburg, portraying Portuguese and Slavic souls, actually so alike. On the other hand, despite being a spy movie, it’s not altogether unfatomable; it’s even easy to follow. Dialogues are good, some of them brilliant, while still plausible. Photography is quite fine, without baffling the spectator’s attention. The interpretation might not be worth an oscar, but it’s, so to say, flawless.

Yet, there’s something else. Something that has always been there, adding to the experience, pleasing me, hidden, which I believe I haven’t noticed but now. Indeed, I find The Russia House so nice to watch, so heart-soothing, because, despite taking place during the cold war, in a world of conflicting powers and hostile countries, none of the characters is unpleasant, at least to my eyes. All of them are nice, in a way or other; all regarded from such a human point of view, which I can identify myself with. Leaving aside, obviously, the two main stars, the dramatic strength of Dante’s heroism mesmerizes me, Russel’s professional integrity moves me, Ned’s sentimentalism captures me and, in general, all of them, no matter which side, are viewed from a kind, warm angle; notwithstanding, it’s not one of those pretentious movies, presumedly objective, where “there are no good nor bad guys”; rather a film where only the good side of every character is shown; which I consider a more honest approach. And this is, maybe, one of its features that I like the best. In short, The Russia House is for me a classic, a must. A balanced and accomplished movie.

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The three loves of Notre-Dame de Paris

(The notes you’re about to read have been written considering the characters as they’re shown and pictured in the musical theatre “Notre Dame de Paris” which opened in Paris in 1999. As I haven’t seen or read any other versions of the famous novel by Victor Hugo, my considerations may well be quite different than those derived from the personages as seen by the reader, if he has a better knowledge of the original ones.)

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In this touching story, Notre-Dame de Paris, we are presented with three quite different men who love Esmeralda in three disparate ways: Phoebus de Chateaupers, the Captain of the King’s Archers; Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre-Dame, and Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell-ringer. Well, of course there’s also Pierre Gringoire, the poet; but, though he finds himself unexpectedly married to Esmeralda out of her pity, he’s the only one who doesn’t love her; nor does she love him. So, I’ll leave him aside in this text, whose only aim is to ponder the three loves in play (mark: not the men, but their loves), try to compare and analyse them, and express my preferences.
So, first we have Phoebus. When he meets Esmeralda, he’s engaged to Fleur-de-Lys, and though he inmediately falls for the gipsy (and she corresponds him), his heart is divided between the two women, he’s “déchiré”, he wants “l’une pour toujours jusqu’à la fin des temps, et l’autre pour un temps un peu plus court”. His plea, though surely understandable by almost anyone, however doesn’t awaken our sympathies. He’s an opportunist, and his love for Esmealda is admittedly transient, a caprice. He wonders if she’s still a virgin, and his love is meant to last only until he gets her “fleur d’amour”. Nothing creditable seems to be here, and Phoebus’ only tribulation is whether he could possibly profit both women’s loves without having to renounce to any; and this appears to be quite easy, taking into account that he knows that both women love him. He actually doesn’t have much to lose.
Then we have Quasimodo. And how not to like him? He has a great spiritual beauty. He worships Esmeralda and is devoted to her. His love is totally pure, honest, clean and guiltless. He doesn‘t conceal his feelings, is ready to make a fool of himself (but he’s already a fool!), to do any sacrifices for her, offers everything he has (which isn’t much) and places himself at her feet. His love is the only one which actually cares for her, and not only for himself. He’s ready to help her and comfort her any time even if she choses not to love him. This is moving. No person who has a soul would be untouched by Quasimodo’s tenderness and purity of feeling. But, on one hand, and as Pierre says in the heartrending song Lune, this is a “détresse folle”, a folly distress, an almost insane affection. Quasimodo can’t reasonably expect that Esmeralda -nor any other woman- would correspond him. And the very desperate nature of his love makes it almost unhuman. On the other hand, for him it’s just trivial to fall in love with her: she’s beauty and desirable, while he’s just a monster, a hunchback, much “below” her in any possible accepted scale. Even though he’s ready to sacrifice “everything” for her, he doesn’t really have to sacrifice anything, because he’s a pariah and has nothing to sacrifice except a misrable and wretched life, worth “nothing”. Thus, having nothing, he also has nothing to lose.
And finally there’s Frollo’s love, allegedly the most complex of all. Frollo is an authority, a big man, one who has devoted all his life to the faith he professes, but who suddenly caughts himself red-handed having some feelings he hadn’t known before, feelings which contravene all what he had sincerely believed until then: his religious beliefs, his moral principles, everything shakes under the weigh of this unexpected love. He finds he’s a priest -supposedly strong as a rock- trapped in a man’s flesh. As a human, he loves Esmeralda, but as a serf of God he doesn’t know what to do with this carnal love, how to deal with his feelings; he’s at a loss. He cries a question that makes us empathise with him: “la désirer, fait-il de moi un criminel?” By desecrating his own nature, he becomes a being tortured by his feelings, which he can’t suppress but through cruelty. This character, however heinous, shatters me; I’m fascinated by the prohibitions that devour him, and I can’t but admire him. He’s the only one whose love implies a real sacrifice, the only one truly tormented by the passion he experiments. Definitely the one I find more credit in.
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About the last words in Lolita

This note is just a quotation of a paragraph in a website (Reading group center) with which (I mean the paragraph now, not the website) I totally agree and empathyse:
The last lines of Lolita are: “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita”. What is the meaning of this passage? What does art offer Humbert and his beloved that sexual passion cannot? Is this aesthetic appeal merely the mask with which Humbert conceals or justifies his perversion, or is the immortality of art the thing that Humbert and his creator have been seeking all along? In what ways is Lolita at once a meditation on, and a re-creation of, the artistic process?