May 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written by David Seltzer
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Starring Diane Lane, Tim Robbins and James Gandolfini
Cinema Verite taps into the joy, angst, paranoia and ego stroking of reality television, the phenomenon of becoming a celebrity, ne’ a star, for no reason other than being yourself on the larger than life stage of a television screen through well edited footage to develop a linear plot in between all the minutes in our life that we do nothing of much importance or interest. In particular, Cinema Verite re-examines the first reality television stars ever. A 10-part mini series that documents the day to day lives of a seemingly average, upper class family living in Santa Barbara, California named the Louds, over a 7 month period in 1971, 20 years before The Real World and a quarter century before the explosion of reality television as an industry.
The film ostensibly stars Diane Lane as the matriarch of the family, Patricia Loud, a woman too old to be a hippy, too young to not be progressive and self-reliant in a post-women’s lib era. As Pat Loud, Diane Lane is amazing. Her skin is leathery taught with an orange glow, the kind you get from over exposure to sun in the days before sun lotion. She’s powerful, sexy, self-confident but also with a quiet pain just below the surface. What’s interesting is that we’re watching Diane Lane in a magnificent performance as a real woman who said and did these real things, imperfect as they were, raw as they were, but even so, somehow extremely interesting. That’s the most amazing part about Cinema Verite and the post-reality television explosion- with enough footage and the right editor, anybody can be interesting and worthy of their own television series!
Lane is supported by a wonderful cast, lead by James Gandolfini as Craig Gilbert, the executive producer of the mini-series and a kindred spirit of Lane’s character. He has a quietly pained, all knowing persona where he isn’t letting on to everything he sees and understands- or desires. His goal in the project and his moral compass is sometimes put into question, though he never seems unreasonable. They forge an easy friendship but an awkward relationship as he fights to keep the relationship professional. The rest of the cast is just a strong, though most of the kids are short shifted by the script. The only one who gets significant screen time and character development is the eldest son, Lance, played by Thomas Dekker in a scene stealing performance as a flamboyant 20-something with an ambiguous, fluid sexuality and a flare for the dramatic.
The film shows us brief glimpses of footage of the real family as a segue between acts of the story as we watch an already precariously functioning family disintegrate between the boorish, insincere and limelight loving husband Bill Loud (played with a perfect mixture of desperation, mystique and insincerity by Tim Robbins) and the born star wife who’s strength is in her attitude towards the camera which ranges from indifferent to combative. The brilliance and the meta-aspect of a film like Cinema Verite is in the tragedy of the outcome- the ending of a marriage and the splitting up of a large, previously loving family. Was it the documentary that caused the destruction or was it inevitable? It’s unclear. Then to watch the family going through the motions of a marriage ending, seeing actors act them out as real people who we had the privilege of witnessing as a public, mass audience, hearing and seeing things that we ourselves have gone through in the privacy of our own homes. It’s quite a complex, multi-layered experience.
If the film has a fault, its in the conceit of condensing a 10-hour miniseries plus behind the scenes action that was originally culled from hundreds of hours of footage down into a 90 minute scripted drama. The deceit of this conceit is all too prevalent, leading us to wonder what was left on the cutting room floor and what was editorialized about Cinema Verite.