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Movie Recommendations

Spotlight on: Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Alternate Recommendation: Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Surprising enough, given the inclinations of his doppelgangers in the films he has written, I think Charlie Kaufman truly understands love. This is, in fact, quite obvious upon watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

In the first scene, we see Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) skip work impulsively and take a Long Island train to Montauk. There he sees Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) and they have a cute, though uncomfortable, meeting scene. But in a Kaufman film, nothing is as it seems, and we soon realize that this is not the first time Joel and Clementine have met. In fact, they have just ended an unhappy love affair and chosen to have each other erased from their memories.

This is only the first time switch that we will be presented with. But the beauty of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is that the film is not hard to follow. The memory-erasing process is not remotely science-fiction in its presentation and is explained within the context of the story. Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) operates Lacuna, Inc. with help from eraser Stan (Mark Ruffalo), his girlfriend Mary (Kirsten Dunst) the receptionist, and co-eraser Patrick (Elijah Wood). When Joel discovers through a friend that Clementine has had him erased, he vindictively goes to do the same, but then realizes--right in the middle of the process--that perhaps even bad memories are better than no memories at all.

I'm always very impressed by films that use special effects to enhance the storyline instead of substituting for it. The scene in Amelie where she melts is a perfect example. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the same way. While Joel is having his memory erased, we are taken through scenes from his and Clementine's relationship and we watch as the memory is erased bit by bit. One scene in a bookstore is particularly effective as the titles on the books begin to fade until the shelves are filled with white. In other scenes, people's faces will turn unrecognizable, giving the whole thing an eerie effect.

Charlie Kaufman is undoubtedly one of the more original screenwriters Hollywood has working today. So far, the four films (not including Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) he has released have been directed by only two different directors--Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry--and they both began by directing music videos. I think this is an example of the kind of cinematic vision that it takes to interpret Kaufman's work. Michel Gondry directs Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with a sure eye for the material, something that was missing from their previous collaboration, Human Nature.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Jim Carrey loses his usual antics entirely, even when playing a four-year-old version of himself. I hope he has stopped "trying" to win an Academy Award, because this may be the year he takes it. Kate Winslet is a little out of her element as Clementine but she pulls it off wonderfully by just letting the script tell her what to do. Kirsten Dunst is becoming the go-to girl for "sexy young thing" roles--she uses her body to its best advantage (there is a long scene where she is only wearing a T-shirt and panties), but as long as it's okay with her, it's okay with me. And it is really quite a relief to see Elijah Wood playing a decidedly non-heroic role. I had not seen Mark Ruffalo before--though I heard a lot about his work in You Can Count on Me--but he is truly solid, even a standout among this stellar cast.

I've had to hold back on the description of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind because a lot of the joy is in discovery and going along in the story with the characters. But, by all means, you must see it. It is Kaufman's best film yet--it may be his masterpiece, and I really liked Adaptation. If he continues to improve as he has been, we are really in for a show ten or twenty years down the road.

Alternate Recommendation: Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie

Superlatives fail me! A sweet, romantic comedy (from the director of The City of Lost Children) with a very creative use of special effects (not usually found in such films), Amelie is one of those movies where you leave feeling good. Audrey Tautou delivers a lovable performance; even while she is meddling in other people's lives, you can't help but find her adorable and want to her to find love. There is even a small mystery involved with a perfect solution.

Amelie decides to help people change their lives without them knowing it, but forgets about her own. Until she meets a man at a photo booth and... but that would be giving it away. And one of the pleasures I got from Amelie was that I knew almost nothing about it going in (other than it was receiving critical and audience acclaim). That is a rarity in today's world where trailers tell you the whole story before you've even decided you want to see the thing.

In short, what I'm trying to say is: buy it! Now! So you can watch it over and over again, because you will want to, especially if you have any Francophilic tendencies whatsoever.

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