My Mistress (2014)

my mistress

Sometimes when I go over on to IMDB after a film to see what others have thought of it, I wonder if I’ve actually seen the same movie. With all the fuss about Fifty Shades of Grey (which I still have yet to see), perhaps there was an audience expectation that the Australian film My Mistress would be more of the same – certainly the trailer suggests that the film would be more explicit and, let’s be honest, kinky than it actually is. And yet, if you watch the trailer without getting excited at the bare flesh, it’s easy to see that is not going to be a raunchy effort and is going to be far more reflective and under-stated than that. It appears most online comments missed that fact and, when they watched the film, got disappointed that there wasn’t more…well…handcuffs and whipping.

Harrison Gilbertson stars as 16 year old Charlie as he becomes fixated with a middle-aged French woman who has moved in to a house close to where he lives. By accident, he finds out that she provides “services” of the fetish kind to men in the area, and becomes even more besotted by her, and the two begin a rather strange relationship. But there is more going on here, Charlie’s fixation has occurred during the weeks immediately after the suicide of his father, and the woman, Maggie (Emmanuelle Beart), has suffered her own loss of a different kind.

This isn’t a film about whips and chains, although they appear briefly at various points, but about grief and loss and, in some ways, the need to be noticed and understood during those times. There are very few films that deal with grief in a realistic, non-depressive way. We’re either faced with morbid Haneke-type films or movies where someone dies, a funeral takes place, and everything goes back to normal. But that’s not how life is. In fact, I remember being particularly impressed with, of all things, the second Tobey McGuire Spiderman movie, for the wonderful scene in which Aunt May explains how much she misses her husband even though it had been two years since he died. My Mistress only covers the first month after the death of Charlie’s father, but it does deal with how grief and loss can change the way we would normally act – even if that means getting involved with a woman twice your age and being handcuffed in your boxer shorts to a horse from a fairground ride.

My Mistress is hardly the most fast-paced film in the world, but it is beautifully photographed and the performances by GIlbertson (who also impressed in the horror film “Haunt” last year) and Beart are truly stunning. Australian cinema has often been one of the most fascinating of national cinemas through the last five or six decades, and this movie shows why.

Spider-Man 2 (2004): A Treatise on Grief in the Most Unlikely Place

spider

On Sunday August 24th (today, if you’re reading this on the day I post it), I shall be heading to the stage in a village hall for what has become a yearly concert.  They were twice-yearly once, but that’s not possible these days.  It’s been a weird year since the last one.  There have been the highs of passing my PhD and the lows of a really shit time with bipolar.  When I hit the stage (“hit” makes it sound a little more dynamic than it actually is) this time I shall be singing some old favourites for the first time since my Dad passed away two and a half years ago.  It’s odd singing songs I know he loved, and strange knowing that he won’t hear or see them – not even on videotape.

The day before the show is always a case of “killing time” and not being able to settle to anything constuctive.  So, I sat down in front of the TV and watched the blu-ray of Spiderman 2 from 2004.  The excitement of my Saturday nights hold no bounds.  It’s not exactly a great film, it has to be said, lacking the pace of the first one in the series, just plodding on from one set-piece to another.  However, I did find it interesting given the fact I had been thinking about my Dad, for the film, rather surprisingly, seems to be more honest than most about grief.

The film is set two years after the first, but Peter Parker and his aunt are seen still mourning the loss of his uncle.  It’s an oddly moving element of an otherwise rather vacuous film, not least because of the genuine and touching way in which these scenes are portrayed.  All too often, grief and mourning is dismissed in a film or a book or a play as something very temporary.  Someone dies, people cry, the funeral takes place, everything returns to normal. In a space of two weeks life is back on track.  That, of course, is bullshit.   It’s not the way it works.  Things never really go back to how they were.  We get back into a routine, for sure.  But it’s not the same routine, because there’s always someone missing from it.

Film, at least popular, commercial film, very rarely acknowledges this.  And neither does popular TV or fiction.  When was the last time you watched Midsomer Murders and saw someone really grieving?  It’s hard to tell why such basic human emotions are missing.  After all, most of us like to be able to “identify” ourselves with the character on the screen.  Of course there are arthouse films that are all about grief and mourning and loss.  But there are certain subjects that are avoided in more commercial ventures, it seems, simply because the makers don’t really know how to deal with them.

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been much discussion about mental health issues on TV and the social media.  These are issues that, again, we rarely see portrayed in TV or film dramas.  Like mental health issues, it appears that death and grief is still a taboo – something that people feel remarkably uncomfortable discussing.  And with both of these issues, it’ s  a highly individual experience.  No two people grieve in the same way.  But, if we were to go by Hollywood filmmaking, people just don’t grieve at all.  They wake up one morning, about a fortnight after the event, and everything’s fine again.  It’s not. I miss my Dad now more than I did in the weeks after he died over two years ago.  Is that normal?  I don’t know.  I don’t care.  It’s my normal.

Is it wrong that these emotions are absent on our cinema and TV screens?  I’m not sure about that, but it certainly seems to be an easy option – and something we don’t necessarily notice until we’re suddenly, and unexpectedly, confronted with these scenes in the most unlikely film.  And Spiderman 2 is, certainly, the most unlikely film to deal honestly with the fact that we miss those no longer with us for the rest of our lives and not just until the funeral is over.