When it comes to our planet, there is nothing more important than water. Without it, there would be no life on this planet, period. Whether we use it correctly or not is up to us. All it takes is one person to make a difference and change how we treat our natural resources, just one. The inspiration that sparks other people’s interests could come from any number of places. A book, pamphlet, presentation, or even a film can motivate someone to do the right thing for their environment. On the night of this event, over a hundred people came together to sit and learn. The film screening and presentation were put on by The Harris Center for Conservation Education while also being sponsored by the Keene State Film Society and The Monadnock Conservancy. The Harris Center, which is located in Hancock, N.H., is a non-profit organization that dedicates itself to “promoting understanding and respect for our natural environment.”
Throughout the year they plan events such as hikes, meetings, classes, film screenings, etc. Last year, they came to the Putnam Theater to screen the PBS special “A Murder of Crows.” The theater was packed and everybody came back, but this time, with a larger crowd.
After such a success last year, The Harris Center came back to the Putnam to screen “Watermark,” a 2013 documentary directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky. Before the film began, Brett Amy Thelen, Program Director for Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory (AVEO), a project of the Harris Center for Conservation Education, came out and gave a few words about the organization and what they hope to accomplish. When she was done speaking, she then turned the stage over to Christine Destrempes, Founder and Director of Art for Water, an organization that brings projects to various schools and universities to teach about water. Such projects include bottle caps on strings, with one cap representing somebody in the world without water. Once she was done, the lights were dimmed and the curtain opened. Was all of this wait worth it to see this documentary?
Watching a documentary about water doesn’t sound interesting right off the bat, but something about the trailer intrigued me. The film promised a visual journey of how various cultures use water in various ways. After viewing the film, I can’t say that it was great. The best that I can get it to is okay, and here’s why.
When it comes to films containing very little dialogue, I honestly don’t mind, as long as there is enough visual-flair to keep me intrigued, I’m okay with this format. The difference is that “Watermark” did not need to go this route. I will admit that there were some shots that blew me away, so much so that I wanted to see them on an IMAX screen. For that, I must give credit where credit is due; the directors wanted to film water like we’ve never seen before and for that, job well done.
When I talked to members of the audience afterwards, this was the one thing that they all agreed on. Halli Valentine, a sophomore at Keene State College stated that these simple images “brought a new perspective” that she never thought of before. Jim Guy, a local resident from Dublin, NH stated that “the cinematography was great,” as it also gave him a brand new perspective on how we use water in cultures around the world. Overall, everybody agreed that the film was a marvel to watch, all thanks to the beautiful cinematography.
Of all the points made that night, this is one that I have to agree with. But in my opinion, that is where it ends. While some people may have gotten a new perspective, I felt that “Watermark” was somewhat empty. The concept of little-to-no dialogue with images of water would have worked better if it was a short film. At least then, it would have been brisk and sweet. But when you make it feature-length, I expect some substance. I also expect a score that won’t put me to sleep. At a point, showing how water is used across multiple cultures is not enough without some type of narration.
After all, “Watermark” is a documentary. The film left me in areas where they wanted me to put it together for myself. For a film that wants to inform, it made me leave the theater confused, with little to no impact. I can’t even explain some of the different segments because the transition from one topic to another was jumbled.
Based on the reaction from the crowd, I seemed to be in the minority. While it didn’t do wonders for me, if it got somebody else like Halli or Jim interested, then the film was a success, despite my opinion. People who weren’t part of The Harris Center were interested in joining as the film came to a close. Overall, if a film, good or bad, gets people talking, then I’m glad that it worked on somebody.
Why do we enjoy surrealism? What is it about the unknown that leaves us wanting more? A large number of the movie-going audience go to see movies for an escape. We know that once we leave the theater, reality comes rushing back. It’s nice to know that for two hours, we can sit down and lose ourselves in the action on-screen. Elements of surrealism only enhances this notion, add a heartbreaking romance between two likeable leads and you get “Mood Indigo”.
Based off of the novel “Froth on the Daydream” by Boris Vian, “Mood Indigo” tells the story of Colin [Romain Duris] and Chloe [Audrey Tautou]. Colin lives a very simple life with his friend/lawyer Nicolas [Omar Sy]. One day, his best friend Chick [Gad Elmaleh] invites him to a birthday party. While Chick is distracted by his own vision of loneliness, Alise [Aïssa Maïga], Colin’s attention is focused elsewhere. Across the room, he notices Chloe and nervously approaches her. Once they get to know each other, they fall in love and get married several months later. But alas, just when everything seems to be going well, tragedy strikes, as Chloe is suddenly stricken with an odd illness. As her situation worsens, so do the relationships of the people around her.
After reading a similar synopsis, I thought that it sounded simple enough, to the point of cliché territory—but believe me when I say that there is so much more going on. I expected a simple love story and I ended up getting something different altogether. “Mood Indigo” can be described in this one simple equation: charming protagonists plus romance plus “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.”
Director Michel Gondry definitely had a vision for what he was making. To give you some background, he directed such films as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Science of Sleep” and “The Green Hornet.” Throughout his filmography, you can tell that he has a very specific visual flair. Here, Gondry tries to continue that tradition by mixing a straight-forward narrative and surrealism. As visually stunning as it is, does it make “Mood Indigo” a good film?
If I were to pick a side, I couldn’t. My best answer would be yes and no and here’s why.
Ranging from stop motion to CGI, everything looks gorgeous. Throughout the film, many of these moments fit the spirit and tone that he is striving for. But then there are these quirky little moments that try too hard to be different and it ends up alienating the audience. I believe what helped Gondry in the end, was that as the tone got more serious, he slowed down on the visuals. He instead let his actors further their characters; and why wouldn’t he? No film’s visual effects are as important without good characters to back them up.
If I had to watch a love story for an hour-and-a-half, I’m glad that it was with Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou. Just like their romance, they grow on you over time. Duris plays a very straight-laced, yet anxious character, that only wants to find love.
He finds love in the form of Audrey Tautou, who in my opinion, is incredibly beautiful and highly talented. Here, her character is free-spirited and finds enjoyment in the little things that life has to offer. Over the course of their relationship, you get to know more about them and their quirks.
The surrealism of the first half helps set up the visual imagination of this world. While trying to tell a contained love story, this film instead comes off as a charming fantasy. The narrative itself may not seem like anything totally new, but the leads are so incredibly likeable, that I gave it a pass. As I stated before, the only other thing that bothered me, was the overuse of surrealistic imagery in some scenes.
At this point, I could go on to describe other elements like the mouse or the use of curvy legs, but it would spoil the surprise of seeing it for the first time. I am now writing this after seeing it for a second time and I’m glad that I did. It allowed me to see it from a different perspective and appreciate it even more. “Mood Indigo” is an unusual, yet fascinating story of love and tragedy, surrounded by a cast of characters that you can’t help but love the whole way through.
Matt Bilodeau can be contacted at email@example.com