Resolution and not resolution

This week I’ve watched a couple of recent movies the first Hedwig and the angry inch  (John Cameron Mitchell US 2001) and ‘This must be the place’ (Paolo Sorrentino 2011 Italy/France/Ireland). Both pf these film were left rather oddly unresolved, in terms of a three act narrative structure, but were all the more satisfying because of this. In the first a post-modern musical, replete with in-jokes and intertextual references the story seemed to fall apart at the beginning of the third act, one assumes, by design. The impact of this was that it adopted a slightly artificial fantasy sequence one might normally see in the first or second acts of many conventional musicals, in doing this the movie seemed to be ironic, and eloquent in addressing its central theme; incompleteness. The story seems unfinished, with the generically expected resolution utterly unsatisfying and incomplete, but the movie as a whole satisfying the requirements of its theme.

The second film ‘This must be the place’ seems to plot a course meandering its way through a three act structure, but the final sequence is utterly unconvincing as a resolution (no spoilers here). This seemed odd when watching the film, but on further reflection made complete sense. the relationships between characters in the film seem stilted and awkward, and mostly unfulfilled, and Sean Penn’s costume throughout, is that of a stage persona for the aging goth-rock star he plays. the main plot line is itself lacks a moral foundation, all of this upsets our moral compass and undermines our suspension of disbelief is such a skillful way that we wish to believe but our reason continually doubts it. It only becomes clear when a character of clear moral certainty is introduced (briefly), that this film is about falsehoods and willing self-delusion. Only then does the purpose of the unconvincing  final sequence become clear. The film is about falsehoods and offers us the final doubt on its veracity, a resolution which makes no sense morally emotionally or on the evidence of what we’ve seen to that point.

The great skill of the film maker in both these films was that while watching them, audiences willingly surrender their disbelief and enjoy the fantasy of the storytelling.  But in the end a brought up short on their expectations causing them to reflect on the nature of what has just been seen. I guess that is the first quality that makes both of these films so haunting and allows their impressions to linger, requiring further reflection long after seeing them.