Sunday, December 14, 2008

And now let us pause for a moment of panic

In the Silly Wizard video, Andy M. Stewart describes the feeling you have when you lean too far back in your chair and you don't know if you're going to plummet to your death through the window behind you or be able to catch yourself in time.

That's exactly how I felt when I looked into my wallet at Treasure Island and discovered my VISA card had gone missing.

It hadn't been turned in at Bonjour, where I thought it might have fallen out of my wallet.

Nuts.

I took the bus part of the way home—so much for much-needed exercise—and found one of my bills with the customer service phone number. Meanwhile, something had occurred to my smarter subconscious. Was it possible I had left the card at the last place I had used it—Argo Tea on Thursday night?

I called. I had. They had it.

Meanwhile, J. had sent a message about going to Starved Rock State Park as it wasn't as far as he'd thought. I told him I wasn't going anywhere until I'd retrieved my card. I was a lot more brusque to him than necessary.

As I was waiting for the bus, it was impossible not to notice how windy it was and how dark in the west. I left a message that it may not be a great day for a stroll in a park two hours away. He said later that he'd started to think the same thing when a branch torn off a tree just missed hitting his car.

After securing my card (whew) I called J. again. Somehow it occurred to me that it might good to go to Julius Meinl, and if we went there we may as well see a movie at the Music Box Theatre, a vintage neighborhood gem. We settled on the 5:30 movie, A Christmas Tale, not knowing anything about it. Sometimes just going to a jewel of a classic old theater is enough.

A Christmas Tale (Un Conte de Noël) is neither standard feel-good or cynical fare, Hollywood style. It's the rambling, messy vignette of a family that is dysfunctional in whole and in parts. How the trouble began is told through narration and silhouettes, a technique that reminded me of the opening of Amélie.

Slowly we meet the whole family—Elizabeth, the control freak in control of little; Henri, the alcoholic ne'er-do-well banished at his sister's behest; Ivan, the pathologically shy and optimistic family man; Simon, the painter languishing for love; Paul; Elizabeth's schizophrenic teenage son; and assorted spouses and children entwined by a tangle of relationships and emotional connections. (Ivan idly wonders if his wife has slept with both Henri and Simon.) Into this seeming disaster waiting to happen Henri brings a young Jewish woman he has picked up, who serves as bemused observer and who, more overtly than anyone else, isn't there for the Christian celebration.

With all the animosity, bickering, jealousies, and even cold detachment (for example, between Henri and his dying mother), A Christmas Tale is strangely uplifting. There is no plot—it's not about whether a compatible bone marrow transplant will be found for matriarch Junon, Elizabeth and Henri will reconcile, Ivan's marriage will survive, or Elizabeth and Paul will come to grips with his schizophrenia. It's simply a lush look at family dynamics in a world where, as Norman Cousins said, "Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live."

I'm pretty sure J. didn't like it. And I'm certain the meal and music at Julius Meinl helped make up for it.

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