"The fact that we can think with certain films, and not simply about them, is the irrefutable sign of their value" - Nicole Brenez

Sunday, 6 April 2014


A squeaking bridge

"Mgeni njoo mwenyeji apone’’ is one of the most popular Swahili sayings in East Africa. It alludes to the practice whereby as a sign of appreciation towards the guest you are hosting in your house you tend to make the best food, the kind that you don’t eat every day, take out your best china that you only use for special occasions and everyone will be on their best behaviour, at least until the guest leaves. If this film would have had any other title, this saying would have done perfectly. It is a compelling story directed by Clint Eastwood, of two simple people embroiled in a complex situation after an upcountry woman, Francesca (Meryl Streep), just after her husband Richard and two kids Michael and Caroline leave for a four-day trip, receives a stranger into her home, a visiting National Geographic photographer, Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), where he ends up spending four days by the end of which he has had stuff her husband does not have every day. Sounds cheesy, but that’s probably because it is.

After their mother Francesca dies, Caroline and Michael are meeting the family lawyer for the reading of the will where they are shocked that their mother left a ‘bizarre’ request. She leaves behind writings giving reasons for it, and as the kids read the books, the narrative is carried on by flash backs through these writings. It is another testosterone-oozing macho role for Clint Eastwood, made even more convenient because he also directs the film. The free-spirited traveller with the rugged and wild charm who just shows up out of nowhere at Francesca’s doorstep as she offers to show him around, then invites him for dinner, then invites him to sleep in her house, then in her bed. All in four days. Typical Clint Eastwood. But the star here is definitely Meryl Streep. She puts on such a stellar performance giving us Francesca, the dutiful but bored housewife who for once allows her romantic side to live, even though with a stranger, in a story woven to explore the complexity of cheating in such a way that we do not dare cast any stones. Neither of them knew where they wanted their newly found romance to lead to in the early heat of their passion and when the time came on the fourth day, it results in one of the best ever performances by Meryl Streep.

Speaking of bridges, the symbolism of the old, falling apart bridge between all the relationships in the film has been so cleverly inserted and the director has to be commended for allowing his audience to exercise their intelligence to perceive it. It is an old beautiful bridge , so beautiful it draws a Nat Geo photographer to come from far away to take pictures of it yet when you get close enough to walk on it, it squeaks. It takes an outsider to see its beauty. Of course the locals see it there every day, so it’s nothing special. See what the movie did there? Francesca’s marriage is monotonous and in obvious  need of repair. Caroline’s and Michael’s marriages are also drifting apart and the seemingly quaint little town of Madison will repulse you with the magnitude of venom that lies underneath its façade, yet at the end of the movie the bridge is still standing. It is a powerful story that will make you rethink judging situations as right or wrong, good or bad. Is it unforgettable? No. Is it a film I would recommend to someone? Yes, definitely.

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