Reviews — January 11
I finally saw “An American in Paris,” one of those films I’d heard tantalizing snippets about before finally settling down with it — the $500,000 climactic ballet, for example, which kicks off the film’s final 18 dialogue-free minutes. Artistically speaking, that’s a bold move.
Staged by co-director and star Gene Kelly, it’s pretty spectacular. It’s almost as if it exists apart from the rest of the movie, which, while amusing, isn’t exactly “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Kelly stars as an American GI who settles in Paris after the war to paint. He’s taken in by a high society woman, but falls for a working-class girl who’s engaged to someone else. Kelly has fun with tunes such as “I Got Rhythm” and “Our Love is Here to Stay” before the showstopper ballet featuring George Gershwin’s 1928 orchestral composition in its entirety.
IMDB.com reports that during the month Kelly took off from filming to rehearse the ballet, co-director Vincente Minnelli had time to shoot an entire movie. When he returned, the ballet took another month to shoot. It really is an ambitious piece of stagecraft, and clearly one reason— maybe the main reason — “An American in Paris” was selected in 1993 for inclusion in the U.S. National Film Registry.
“An American in Paris” (1951) Directed by Vincente Minnelli and Gene Kelly, who stars with Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary and Nina Foch. Unrated. 113 minutes. The entire film was shot on the MGM lot.
“Waiting” is an intriguing book that offers an inside look at highly regimented life in China in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s.
As the novel ends, China is becoming less restrictive and more capitalist. The people welcome the taste of freedom, yet they’re bewildered by it — their lives have been unalterably shaped by the rules, just as Shuyu’s bound feet have been forever hobbled.
Shuyu is the country wife of Lin Kong, an army doctor in a city in northern China. She’s a simple, illiterate woman with a heart of gold.
But their marriage was arranged, and Lin never loved her. He is satisfied to visit her and their daughter just once a year, spending 10 days relaxing, enjoying her fawning service, and begging her for a divorce.
Lin wants to shed Shuyu in favor of his city girlfriend, Manna Wu, a nurse and fellow military officer at the hospital where he works. But divorce isn’t easy in China — only a few cases a year come before the court, and fewer still are approved. Until Shuyu tells the judge she also favors the divorce, Lin remains in limbo.
He and Manna Wu were 30 and 26 when they fell into a relationship. Chinese society limits courtship severely, even if neither partner is married. The most contact they can have is walking and talking together within the hospital compound; touching or being in the same room alone are forbidden.
It’s frustrating for both of them, but more so for Manna, who feels the pressure to exchange her old maid status for marriage. Yet the more she pushes Lin to petition for divorce, and the more wrinkles she develops, the more he questions whether that’s what he really wants.
Author Ha Jin, a former Chinese Army officer who now lives in the U.S., says he based “Waiting” on a true story of a man and woman who waited years to be granted permission to marry. The details are fictional, of course, but they raise interesting questions about duty, love and the way time changes our perspectives.
“Waiting,” by Ha Jin, Vintage International, 1999.