Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Two for the good year

Sometimes, under the right circumstances, two movies can merge in your mind and form a seamless whole.

This actually happens quite frequently to my brother-in-law Joseph, but then he has a short-term memory issue that causes this to happen. Like the time we went to see Michael Bay’s Armageddon and found that we had just missed the start of it and so we decided to see another movie which happened to be playing right at that time, the quirky Australian comedy The Castle, and then see Armageddon afterward. The next day, when we were talking about the movies, it became clear to me that, in Joseph’s mind, the two were one continuous film. You know, your basic story about a family living near in airport trying to save their home from government seizure that turns out to be about a bunch of men shooting into outer space to blow up an asteroid.

This sort of thing actually happens to me as well, although I do not have a short-term memory issue as an excuse for it. I remember trying this when I saw Moonlight Mile and imagined that it could be a sequel to The Graduate. More recently, the Missus and I watched the Stanley Donen romantic comedy/drama Two for the Road, with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney as a couple who are mad about each other but whose different personalities regularly grate during their periodic travels through France. Then, just a few days later, we found ourselves on our own journey to our old stomping ground in the wilds of southwest Ireland, where one of the features is terrestrial television but no satellite reception or personal digital recording. In these cases, we tend to watch whatever comes on one of the four Irish channels, and we found ourselves watching Ridley Scott’s A Good Year. This marked the third time I had seen this movie, the first time being at the 2006 Cork Festival—although this was my first time seeing it adjusted to a 4:3 ration, chopped by commercials and through fuzzy reception.

And before I go any further, let me just say that I love A Good Year. And what’s not to love? It is your basic feel-good romantic comedy populated with attractive people, and it is set in the extremely photogenic south of France. It has an eclectic and pleasing soundtrack. And—not that this is necessarily any guarantee of success—it comes with an impeccable pedigree. It is directed by Ridley Scott, who has received three Oscar nominations (Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down). The star, Russell Crowe, is an Oscar winner (for Gladiator) and a three-time nominee (The Insider and A Beautiful Mind). The female lead, Marion Cotillard, won an Oscar (for La Vie en Rose) the very next year after A Good Year came out. And the movie features Albert Finney, who has been nominated for an Oscar five times (Tom Jones, Murder on the Orient Express, The Dresser, Under the Volcano, Erin Brockovich). Clearly, if this movie had any problems, a lack of collective movie savvy was not among them.

Yet A Good Year was savaged by so many critics, and (as a result?) it did not do well at the box office. When I like a movie that fares poorly critically and commercially, I assume that there is something wrong with me. But after three viewings, I am now convinced that there is something wrong with everybody else. This is a wonderful movie. Maybe people found it too obvious? But what is a romantic comedy if not obvious? Maybe its portrayal of life in France did not ring true. Well, it is somewhat idealized, but clearly not out of anyone’s ignorance. Scott himself has a place in the south of France. And the movie is based on a novel written by Peter Mayle, who has written bestsellers about his own life in the south of France. Indeed, the book was based loosely on a true story. Now, it’s not unprecedented for this many knowledgeable and talented people to get it wrong on a collaboration but, all things being equal, that wouldn’t be the way to bet. I’ll wager my money on all those critics getting it wrong. That makes more sense to me.

Taste is a subjective thing, but if you have ever foregone seeing this movie because you heard or read bad things about it, I urge you to give it a chance.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, back to what I was talking about. The third time I saw A Good Year was just a few days after I had seen Two for the Road, and it struck me that the Scott film could actually be seen as a sort of 40-years-later sequel to the Donen film. After all, they both take place in France and they both feature Albert Finney. One could imagine that the young, passionate Mark Wallace from the 1967 movie had ended up settling in the south of France and becoming the proprietor of a vineyard. You just have to account for the reason that he changed his name to Henry Skinner and claimed to have never been married. But then losing a wife as stunning as Audrey Hepburn could drive a man to do all sorts of strange things. But other than these details, the two characters are not that irreconcilable. Both have a lust for life and a wry, sardonic manner. And just imagine if Mark/Henry’s fortysomething daughter Caroline showed up to complicate an inheritance situation already roiled by the appearance of putative love child Christie, played by Abbie Cornish, who was born 15 years after Two for the Road was released.

This merging of movies can be fun, but you can take this game too far. After all, we would have to get into time travel territory to explain how Mark/Henry had managed to have all kinds of picaresque adventures in the 18th century under the name Tom Jones.

-S.L., 11 June 2009

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