Monday, 29 March 2010

Bad girls and cherry blossoms

Told over a 30-year period The Bad Girl tells of a man's infatuation with a woman who drifts in and out of his life, always reappearing with a new identity.
The narrator, Ricardo, first meets 'Lily' as a teenager in his native Peru in the 1950s when she claims to be from Chile but her story comes apart and she disappears.
He meets her again years later in Paris where they have a brief affair, although she denies being 'Lily' before she travels to Cuba to be trained as guerrilla.
Peruvian politics form a backdrop as Ricardo follows developments as an exile who feels more and more removed from his native land and never really a part of his adopted one.
This is as much a story about exile and a sense of never quite belonging as it is of a man's obsession with a woman.
There are fine period pieces here, describing the revolutionary fervour that gripped many in South America in the wake of the Cuban revolution. The hippie scene in London in the late 1960's also has an authentic feel.
Other characters drift in and out of Ricardo's life but ultimately die or move off in different directions and he is a lonely man who seems to have got caught in rut.
Each time The Bad Girl reappears he becomes re-infatuated with her even through she treats him with contempt and ultimately abandons him.
Even though he knows that she will betray him Ricardo can not help becoming involved with Lily – saving her life on one occasion and leaving him with a huge financial debt only to be abandoned by her again.
The story moves between, France, England, Japan, Peru and finally to Spain where 'Lily' comes into Ricardo's life for the final time.
Vargas Llosa is a visceral writer whose story flows easily and with a logical inevitability.
A man's love for a woman is also the central theme of the German film Cherry Blossoms.
At times I cringed as I thought it was about to dive into sentimentality or pure smaltz but always it redeemed itself.
Rudi is dying from a terminal illness but his wife Trudi keeps the information from him and tries to persuade him to live a bit more and break from his routine.
They travel from Bavaria to Berlin to see two of their children but find themselves regarded as a nuisance by their offspring who are too caught up in their own lives.
Trudi has always been fascinated by Japan and the highly stylized Butoh dancing but Rudi has no interest in going there to visit their youngest son.
When Trudi unexpectedly dies, without telling Rudi of his own illness, he is left floundering to understand what has happened and comes to realise how his wife had sacrificied her own ambitions to look after him and their children.
He travels to Japan for the Cherry Blossom festival but finds like his other children in Germany that his youngest son has little time for him and resents his imposition.
Rudi's vulnerability and total sense of loss is superbly portrayed by Elmar Wepper and I felt myself squirming for him as, dressed in his wife's clothes, beneath his overcoat, he "took her" to see the sights she had always dreamed of.
Like Butoh dancing there are a number of stylized scenes here, particularly when Rudi meets Yu, and 18-year-old homeless girl who he sees practising Butoh dancing in a park.
She accompanies him to Mount Fuji, where Trudi had yearned to visit, for the final inevitable but genuinely moving finale.
It is a film about selfishness, interdependence and coming to terms with loss, setting the Japanese way of coming to accept death with the inability to cope of many Europeans.
The soundtrack is also stunning and took a bit of tracking down but is now hopefully in the post.

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