Tuesday, 9 April 2013

To The Wonder: Valence, Varda and the Pirate Tavern

Helping Me Find My Inner Child, To the Wonder: The Pirate Tavern et "un Peu de Varda a Valence"
Where: Valence, France
When: March 2013

 At last an excuse to get writing again, it has been so very long.  During the regular "spring" trip to France there were some fun things to write about.  Well, one good exhibition, some beautiful scenery (though sadly I only get to talk about the stuff on film) and well...  lunch at the Pirate Tavern...  But really, more than anything else it was time for me to explore my inner child and how much fun it can be.  It all started on the drive back from the airport, at least for me it did, "Oh look, a Pirate Tavern!  How exciting."  Or words to that effect, who knows whether this innocent comment planted a seed, gave someone an excuse or whether it was just a passing comment on the inevitability of things to come.  Anyway, I dislike the idea of eating at a themed restaurant as much as anyone but somehow the idea of going to eat at one brings out my inner child.   The pain of it all.  Anyway, later that week we ended up at the Pirate Tavern for a birthday lunch.

When you see the name Pirate Tavern you expect excitement, parrots, pirates, tankards, and the smell of the sea; generally something pretty rowdy.  However the Pirate Tavern in Valence did not have this idea in mind, in fact it was all rather polite, complete with smiling pirates and relaxing sea shanties playing for background noise.  The only hint of chaos was the crossed knives and forks.  The menu was destination themed and we each chose a set menu from a different country where pirates may or may not have ventured, Thailand, Morocco, Italy and France - perhaps French pirates sailed different oceans to the British...


The food was nicely presented and pretty tasty.  Not being a fan of things from the ocean I went with the Moroccan option.  I actually quite enjoyed my meal it was full of flavour and my lamb was very tender and soft.  It certainly was not what I was expecting and didn't feel very piratey but it was a good lunch nevertheless.

 Now if the pirates didn't bring out my inner child then potatoes certainly would.  There was an Agnes Varda exhibition on and this was something I was really looking forward to.  There were two pieces in this small exhibit that really engaged my inner child.  The first was a film about a photo, Ulysse.  The photo was a black and white shot of a pebbly beach with what looked like a father and son together in the mid area and a dead sheep in the foreground hidden amongst the stones.  With a childlike curiosity Varda tracks down those in the photo many years after it was taken and explores all the angles.  The young boy is now a man, married with children, the young man is now an old man.  The beech is still there and sheep are still plentiful.  Varda questions those involved about the time of the photo and how their lives have moved on creating a narrative and explanation of the photo above any conventional understanding.  She also shoots the film in such a way recreating elements from the photo in the different scenes.  It was immensely enjoyable.  The second memorable moment was watching the installation of potatoes going through various transformations with age, inspired by the heart shaped potato in the The Gleaners & I (Varda, 2000)

With pirates and potatoes my inner child was enjoying itself but it then decided to grow up and go and watch a film.  I have always been a big Terrence Malick fan, well as big as one could be with just a handful of releases over the majority of his directorial career.  Of late he has picked up the pace.  How would To the Wonder compare with the acclaimed (and at times up its arse) The Tree of Life (Malick, 2011) and his prior works?  To the Wonder is really a companion piece to The Tree of Life.  Whereas The Tree of Life seems to focus on masculinity, To the Wonder sees the same story from a more feminine angle.  For me the film was all about the failure to obtain the perfect life these characters wanted.  For the woman, Marina (Olga Kurylenko) a loving perfect family, for the man, Neil (Ben Affleck) a natural life of his own, with his own child.  For the priest, Father Qunitana (Javier Bardem) to find God again, but amongst beautiful shots of Paris, Mont Saint-Michel and the farm lands of Oklahoma in the American mid-west I just stopped caring about these characters.

Visually this was perhaps the most beautiful and mesmerising of Malick's films, the dusky magic hour sunlight, midnight in rain soaked Paris.  Maybe it was all too subtle but I found there was nothing to get my teeth in to, nothing to get all that emotional about.  They say films are made in the editing suite but if we put To the Wonder back into plot order it would be nothing to write home about, just another make up/break up film...  Hopefully the next one will be better.

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