Derik Badman's Journal

2020-12-14 08:23

Somehow I discovered there was a recent Julio Medem movie on Netflix. A long time ago a friend introduced me to his Lovers of the Arctic Circle, and I've been trying to watch his films since then. Most of them are unavailable, and after his 2001 Sex and Lucia he didn't seem to make any films for a number of years. The Tree of Blood is from 2018, his latest. He seems to be one of those artists who reuses themes and plot elements quite a lot, as between these three movies there are a number of shared aspects: coincidences that blend into concepts of fate predominate as major plot turning points; the death of a child and children with mysterious (or at least hidden) parentage; couples who are separated; storytelling particularly in a shared and alternating context; lots of narrative time jumping around (usually related to the storytelling, there tends to the time of the story and the time of the story being told and then usually breaks in between the times the telling happens); mysterious and unexplained almost supernatural occurences.

This latest one had all those. A particular example of the coincidences is an important scene where some of the protagonists go off the road while driving somewhere, which indirectly triggers a nearby accident of another car with more of the protagonists, and then a third car with more of the protagonists comes upon the latter and then sees the former. It's this convergence of events that then triggers a number of important plot revelations.

One thing that is done really well in The Tree of Blood is the maintenance of the mystery. A number of unexplained situations and events are sustained through a large part of the movie in a way that doesn't feel forced and when they are revealed they kind of snowball with each other. In a way the whole thing is a mystery story, where the two protagonists (a couple), know all the parts collectively, but not individually, and it is only in their collective storytelling that the parts reveal the greater whole.

Still watching Normal People, about halfway through, I'm a little annoyed that the main driver of conflict seems to be the protagonists just not clearly stating... well anything, but particularly their feelings in regards to each other. It's a frustratingly weak plot device that is getting used too often, and it's particularly annoying because I cannot figure out what the one character's (Connell) issue is. There is no insight into why he acts the way he acts. The female protagonist, Marianne, makes a lot more sense, as we see her family situation and it pretty clearly shows why she's not great with expressing feelings and why she's got low self-esteem, especially about someone caring for her. But Connell's mother (the only family of his we see) is really open and caring and supporting of him, so there's no explanation for why he is how he is, and it's such a major aspect of the drama that it feels like a failing of the plot (else, there's some important and completely hidden reveal waiting to happen). I should add I don't mean to imply family is the only reason the character may act like he does, but we aren't given any other insight for him.