Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Boys Will Be Boys

By Susan Ellis

SEPTEMBER 29, 1997:  In the Company of Men has garnered some controversy for its depiction of cruelty. But this controversy serves writer/director Neil Labute well for two reasons. First, it provides publicity for his small film. Second, it's an indicator of how ably he presents the dark side of man.

In the Company of Men revolves around two businessmen, Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy), who are sent for six weeks to their company's branch office. Over drinks, the two men moan about their recent failed relationships and rail about the duplicity of women. Riled up, Chad hatches a plan. He suggests they use their six weeks away to settle the score by finding a vulnerable woman, perhaps one who doesn't date much, both of them wine and dine her and then, just before they return, viciously dump her.

Chad happens upon their prey almost immediately, the deaf Christine (Stacy Edwards), who works in the typing pool. As the weeks tick off, both Howard and Chad, especially Chad, have sufficiently charmed her. And as the men periodically confer about their project, each man professes to liking Christine.

Eckhart is excellent as Chad, a man no one would ever want to turn his back on. He's the type of controlling jerk who uses his easy approachable laugh to win over his coworkers, then turns around and calls them fuckers when they've left the room. His manner with Christine -- his words of trust and love -- is particularly chilling considering the path he's taking her down. Malloy, as Howard, works as Chad's counterpart. He's the chump susceptible to peer pressure, who doesn't realize that if his friend can do this to Christine, he may have a deceit or two aimed at him. Serving as the only sympathetic character, Edwards holds her own among the men and gives Christine a delicate dignity.

Labute effectively delivers his story of manipulation. And just when you find yourself thinking that these men are creeps, but so what?, he digs in a little deeper. In the Company of Men isn't always easy to watch, but it will stay with you.

-- Susan Ellis

WHEN I WAS LITTLE, I ONCE found a dead bird and tried to bring it back to life. From what I understood, such a thing was possible -- after all, Jesus came back after three days in the grave, didn't he?

A child's struggle to make sense of death is the subject of Ponette, a remarkable French film that tells its story entirely from the viewpoint of a 4-year-old girl. After her mother is killed in a car accident, Ponette (Victoire Thivisol, who won Best Actress at the 1996 Venice Film Festival for her uncanny performance), has difficulty believing that death is permanent. In order to comprehend death, she also has to figure out how God operates, making her task doubly hard. Getting no support from her father, who tells her to knock off the God crap and live in the real world, Ponette tries various tactics to reach her dead mother and talk to her. At the boarding school she attends, a know-it-all classmate tells Ponette she must pass several tests of bravery in order to become a "child of God," which would then enable her to contact her mother. Other children offer her magic spells they believe will conjure up the dead. When none of these methods work, Ponette finally runs off to the cemetery, finds her mother's grave, and begins digging up the dirt with her hands, screaming, "Mommy! I'm here!" But despite this harrowing scene, eventually she finds the strength to endure the pain and go on with her life.

To emphasize the smallness of a child's world, director Jacques Doillon shot most of the film in very tight closeups. The camera appears to be only inches away from these kids, yet they behave so naturally that they seem unaware of its existence. Doillon spent months taping preschoolers in order to write authentic-sounding dialogue, and as a result the script is full of those marvelously bizarre utterances that only a 4-year-old could come up with. These kids aren't dumb, but since they've never been told much about concepts like death, they come up with their own theories to explain what's happening. Ponette is exceptional because it respects children for who they are and acknowledges that their inner life is every bit as valid as our own. -- Debbie Gilbert

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