Friday, October 31, 2008

"You look stupid. And your hair is awful." (Or, a requiem for Nana.)



"...but I, prompted by that worst of devils, poverty, returned to the vile practice and made the advantage of what they call a handsome face be the relief to my necessities, and beauty be a pimp to vice."
                                                                       Moll Flanders
                                                                       Daniel Defoe


To begin with, in going from her role in Jean-Luc Godard's third film, Une femme est une femme, to her role in his fourth film, Vivre sa vie, Anna Karina has displayed an exceptional adaptability. In the former, the character of Angela--for the most part--is spoiled and childish, and in Vivre sa vie, the character Nana has--in a sense--been forsaken. Of course, the two characters are antithetical visually as well. In my eyes, the cute and dainty character of Angela in Une femme est une femme pales in gravity and presence, to one of the most tragic and bewitching antiheroines I have ever seen in a film--Nana.

If there is any continuity between these two roles, it is quite simply, Anna Karina's uncanny naturalness in front of the camera. In Vivre sa vie, Godard utilizes Karina's naturalness in front of the camera for all it's worth. Through prolonged close-ups of Nana (without dialogue), Godard uses Karina's stark, imploring, and bewitching (yeah, I used that word again, and I'll probably use it again before this is finished) facial expressions to convey more than the film does as a whole, through dialogue. In fact, some of the close-ups are so prolonged and candid (to the point of seeming uncontrived), and Nana's situation is so unfortunate, and so the product of the shameful and predatory proclivities of the men in her environs, that as a man, it is difficult at points to return her "Gaze."

I'd like to think that this is a manifestation of me--as a man--having a conscience. Because, as a man, Vivre sa vie illustrates a number of reasons to be ashamed of the motives and actions of other members of my gender. Even though, during her conversation with Yvette, Nana professes her belief that she is responsible for all of her actions, I do feel that her circumstances in this film illustrate the complex reasons why she is wrong in her belief. One scene that concisely conveys the dire circumstances that eventually drive Nana to prostitution, is the scene where she attempts to sneak into her apartment, after we've seen her repeatedly attempt to borrow 1000 francs from different people. Obviously she is homeless, which is a circumstance that--no matter how in control of our decisions we like to think we are--will drive anyone to extreme and desperate measures.

And of course, in this film, there is no shortage of assholes to facilitate Nana's extreme and desperate measures. And for that matter, there is no shortage of assholes to remind us of how petty, vicious, and unsympathetic men can be to a woman in such dire straits. One line in particular, that stands out as especially contemptible, and summarily conveys a disheartening flaw in the predominate reasoning of men towards women (to this day), is in the cafe, when Yvette's male friend wants to meet Nana. He asks his friend how to tell if she's a lady or a tramp, to which his friend answers:


"Insult her. If she's a tramp, she'll get angry; if a lady, she'll smile."


Nana, of course, smiles.

In this sophomoric question and test, Godard--perhaps unconsciously--illuminates the cursed, earthbound confines of male thought. This is not to say that women don't suffer from their own type of existential myopia, but that is not our concern here, nor does it generally exist at the expense of others--nearly--to such a degree as the myopia of men. The kind of human detritus that becomes a pimp, and thus has been reduced (and I do mean, reduced) to viewing women as only either one of two things--a lady or a tramp, is lost. Lost like any human being who has been reduced to the point that they no longer possess the capacity for sympathy or mercy. Lost like the monk in Carl Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, who comes to tell Joan that she is going to be executed--which of course produces empathetic tears in Nana. Lost like any human being (like the monk) who has become miserable enough to need to question another human beings' faith, by asking, "How can you still believe you were sent by God?"

Aren't we all?


Monday, October 27, 2008

"All that singing gives me a pain."

Throughout the life and world of celluloid, real and barbaric wars and conflicts have been repeatedly trivialized (whether consciously or unconsciously) by being used as peripheral backdrops, with which, a tragic circumstance or element is added to some romantic story line. In some cases this is fine, but in others, the romantic story in question involves characters from the side of the conflict that is in the wrong, and in doing so, reduces the film into nothing more than an irresponsible--if not morbid--dismissal of the wrong that has been done. In other words, it involves characters from the side of the conflict that has used shameless tactics, or has been fighting to preserve some kind of malignant institution or deplorable condition, or has exterminated large numbers of innocent lives, or--which is often the case--has been a wretched combination of all of these circumstances. Regardless of its--admittedly--admirable attempt to, as Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, show viewers "the traumatic effect of the [Algerian] war on French civilian life," Jacques Demy's musical, Les parapluies de Cherbourg, nevertheless trivializes a vicious and shameless colonial war that cost a staggering amount of Algerian lives, by using the war as nothing more than a backdrop for the story of two French lovers.

Perhaps it is not fair to go so far, as to lump Les parapluies de Cherbourg into the same ignominious category, as a film like Victor Fleming's "Epoch" about the American Civil War, Gone With the Wind--which fatuously and pitifully attempts to convince audiences, that there is supposed to be some kind of tragedy in the personal losses suffered by the slave-owning aristocracy of the antebellum south. Nevertheless, Jacques Demy's musical is supposed to show viewers that "ordinary" French citizens suffered during Algeria's war for independence. But when one considers the monstrous loss of Algerian lives (estimates range from 300,000 to over a million), the tens of thousands of injured and maimed, the millions of Algerians that were uprooted and displaced, and the abominable tactics used by the French (tactics so indiscriminate and detestable that they have become known as the "French School" of counter-insurgency), it becomes difficult to enjoy any of the singing in Les parapluies de Cherbourg, or the "sugar and spice" of Michel Legrand's musical score--or for that matter, feel very commiserative towards the tragedy of any French love that may have been lost. In real life (since this film is supposed to be concerned with the "ordinary"), if someone like the character Guy had any heart at all, he would have been one of the French citizens who got arrested for refusing to take part in that murderous colonial endeavor. He loses Genevieve in the end anyway, so at least he could have done it without the blood of innocent Algerians on his hands, conscience, and soul.

With all of that said, it does seem important, if this is to be fair, to consider--in Jacques Demy's defense--the milieu in France at the time this film was being conceived, filmed, and released, as well as the significance of what France lost. To begin with, France had been forced to relinquish Algeria in 1962 (because of the steadfast fighting of Algeria's Front de Liberation National)--just two years before Les parapluies de Cherbourg was released. It is important to remember how profoundly this loss hurt an already troubled France, that had been rocked domestically by an adamant anti-war resistance which was comparable in force and scope, to that which rattled the United States to its core, during the Vietnam War. France's government and military, as historian Michael H. Hunt writes, were already "frustrated and demoralized" from repeated losses and embarrassments that had preceded their loss of Algeria. "They had surrendered to the Germans during World War II," Hunt goes on to write, "and more recently [had surrendered] to the Vietnamese, had abandoned control of Morocco and Tunisia without a fight, and had suffered humiliation in the Suez crisis." Of course, aside from all of this, Algeria was also considered a vital, integral part of France, because of--among other things--its geographical proximity, just across the Mediterranean.

In this context, and considering the oppressive--virtually Fascist--repression of dissent in France at the time, it is a little easier to understand how some people could have considered Les parapluies de Cherbourg to be one of the first films released in the country, that confronted the negative and detrimental effects that the war had had on "ordinary" French citizens. In fact, in Agnes Varda's documentary about Jacques Demy, one French film critic even recalls that his parents--who were communists--insisted that Les parapluies de Cherbourg was "the first honest film about the Algerian war." If this is indeed the case, than that is pretty pitiful. 

Caroline E. Layde writes for senses of cinema, that Jacques Demy did at least attempt to address social and political realities, "but through [a] romantic, rose-colored lens." Well, after studying--exhaustively--about what exactly the French did to the people of Algeria, and learning that over 400,000 French citizens were willing to go over and take part in that colossal barbarism, it seems more fitting to say that Les parapluies de Cherbourg does not view Algeria's war for independence through a "romantic, rose-colored lens," but through a cowardly, dismissive veil. Compared to all of the death and torture, the fact that Guy and Genevieve lose each other's love, is as much of a poetic and insignificant incidental, as any anguish that that racist bitch in Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara might have experienced. In other words, when 400,000 "ordinary" French citizens are willing to take part in such an ignominious and vicious war, who cares about its traumatic effects on them?

And aside from all of that, "All that singing gives me a pain."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"You wear too much eye makeup. My sister wears too much. People think she's a whore."

I guess it is easy to see how Jean-Luc Godard could have been so completely smitten with Anna Karina, that he made a film like A Woman Is A Woman, just to--in a sense--gloat over her. But perhaps that is an unfair way of saying it. She is after all, "a natural" in front of the camera--perhaps too much so. In fact, as a male viewer, it is hard to not feel as though I am being--in a sense--seduced. When reflecting on the character of Angela in A Woman Is A Woman, it is difficult to overstate just how completely (to use an expression from our discussion in class) "self-conscious" the character is. I don't know if I'm aggravated, distracted, entertained, repulsed, or turned-on by the plethora of Angela's blatant displays of "self-consciousness" (for instance, sticking her ass out, and looking at it, every time she walks by the mirror in her and Emile's apartment), or if in fact, it is actually some kind of mixture of all of these reactions at once.

One thing I do know is, Anna Karina's performance in A Woman Is A Woman is a vivid display of pure, unadulterated, visceral vanity (not that all acting isn't, but these types of relationships between directors and actresses are extreme cases). How could it not be, when one of Godard's primary reasons for making this film was simply to exalt a woman that he was--at the time--obviously enamored of. Which is fine, I guess, but when I have a venerable feminist (meaning I respect her as a formidable intellect) like Laura Mulvey making me feel like I should feel guilty about something as rudimentary as...well...looking at what is front of me, by carrying on about the vast and unconscious intricacies of my male "Gaze," as it regards the female form, and how in some way, the female in question is being oppressed by my "Gaze," than the female and the acute vanity that has motivated her to be up on the screen, become a little fucking irritating. 

Mother of babbling god, that last sentence was a mouthful. I guess all of this is me acknowledging that I understand why feminists are concerned. But I can't get around the fact that nobody forced Anna Karina to make a bunch of films, whose underlying themes are how beautiful and unique she and some director/husband think she is. In the end, it seems to me, that film roles like that of Anna Karina in A Woman Is A Woman don't prove Mulvey's argument--they detract from it (and the feminist cause in general). And in doing so, they illustrate a profound lack of solidarity amongst women, that to this day, undermines a good deal of the progress that "the intimately oppressed" have fought adamantly for.

Alright--with all of that bellyaching out of the way, I feel free enough to say that I really did enjoy Jean-Luc Godard's vibrant "deconstruction" of the Hollywood musical. Likewise, I also feel freer to say that Anna Karina's pouty, charming, flirtatious, and unreasonable performance is deliciously entrancing. Especially when she sticks her ass out in front of the mirror, and looks at it (please forgive me Ms. Mulvey).

Technically speaking (which is something that I generally try to avoid) Godard's use of music is jarring and conspicuous, and does indeed break the traditional musical format to pieces (which is why I actually was able to enjoy it). Perhaps one of the queerest examples of Godard turning a scene on its ear through his use of music, is when he will plays dramatic, suspenseful crescendos over and over again, but nothing of consequence occurs. In regular musicals, after the crescendo has peaked, we are generally subjected to some singing and dancing (I assume)--a torment that some of us are thankful to Godard for sparing us.



Friday, October 17, 2008

"A woman like that."



Warning: This is going to be a long one. Also, this was written while listening to the almighty Fela Kuti doing "Lady," and if you listen to "Lady" while reading what follows, it willas far as I'm concerned, help put things in context.


I had been living in Chicago for about two years, and was back in Detroit to spend Thanksgiving with my family. As usual, my friend Eric picked me up from the Greyhound station the day of Thanksgiving eve (the biggest bar night of the year, blah blah blah), and we went to his house in Corktown and started drinking. It was--as always--good to be home. That night--since our friend Nick was head-bartender and we drank for free for the most part--we went to Fifth Avenue Billiards while it was still adjacent to Ford Field and the new Tiger Stadium, to get drunk and play pool. You're probably wondering, what does this have to do with our film class, let alone Francois Truffaut's ill-fated morass, Jules and Jim? And rightfully so, but if you--dear, appreciated reader--will bear with me, I will get to it soon enough.

So, Eric and I are drinking and playing pool, and by this time, have been joined by some other friends--namely, Jason, Donovan, and Dre, and all is indeed well, and we're getting drunk and having fun on the eve of this declining nation's "day of thanks" (where, incidentally, instead of fasting or some other genuine display of gratitude, we stuff ourselves even more than we usually do). All of a sudden I realize that some trifling-looking, blonde, bar-nymph has joined us. As the evening rolls on, I--at one point--watch her walk away from our group with Jason, which infuriates Eric, and later on, I see her walk away with Eric, which infuriates Jason. Eric ends up being the one to officially "hook up" with her.

Eric and Jason, to this day, (five or six years later) hate each other, and do not speak. What's even funnier is, Eric only "hung out" with the aforementioned "whore of Babylon" for a few fleeting months before she cheated on him, and moved on. But the fissure she created between these two alleged friends has endured to this day, and does not look like it is going to be bridged any time soon.

Damn, that took a lot of space to explain. What is my point? Well, in Jules and Jim, with the friendship between Jules and Jim, Truffaut has illustrated that if at least one friend is willing to act tolerant and reasonable when a woman attempts to wedge herself between two friends, that that friendship can endure. Truffaut illuminates the strength of the friendship that Jules and Jim share, to an even greater degree, by having it endure the two friends fighting on opposite sides of World War I.

But I'm forgetting Catherine (god forbid)--the woman with the statue's smile, who runs off and commits "some irreparable act" every time she does not feel "sufficiently appreciated." The only reason I can see, to not write Catherine off as an utterly cursed, predictable, contemptible, and malign creature (and the same for the "whore of Babylon" who got between my two friends) is that she only causes as much anguish and turmoil as she is allowed to cause--which in Catherine's case, is a whole bunch, including the eventual and poetic murder of Jim. In other words, Catherine would be harmless if it wasn't for the pitiful and infuriating defeatism and passivity of Jules, and the back-stabbing weak-mindedness of Jim.

In general, and whether it is conscious or unconscious, there is not one single redeeming female character in all of this film. In fact, the girl at the bar with the short hair (after Jim has returned to France), who is said to be--literally--to stupid for conversation, despite how erotic and fetching she is said to be by her...uh...handler, just may signify the all-time, end-all-be-all nadir of how women are portrayed in the world of celluloid. She's like nothing more than a beautiful tree with a pulse (dear god, where is Laura Mulvey when we need her?!).

Which, as I've written before, is all fine with me--it is just a movie. In real life, and as many lucky men know, there are, of course, as many selfless, strong, faithful, and intelligent women as there are "whores of Babylon." With regards to the latter though, I don't necessarily condemn them for getting away with what they are able to get away with. I do indeed believe in hating the "game" (as they say), and not the "player." Anyways, despite having an abundance of power over Jules and Jim, Catherine isn't any better off for it. In fact, she seems like a pretty tormented soul--hell, she even finally commits suicide. It all seems to boil down to how Jules and Jim, or for that matter, how my friends Eric and Jason decide they are going to act towards "A woman like that."


"A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons."

                                            An old Cheyenne saying.


Friday, October 10, 2008

"Idiot."

I am smitten with Maud. Which is an odd reality in and of itself, because I am rarely distracted by actresses, or musicians, or any media or celluloid figures of any kind. If she is not standing in front of me, it is hard for me to be distracted by a woman--or in other words, I need actual interaction and proximity. I've never understood those people who obsess over people they will never meet. But, after viewing Eric Rohmer's, My Night at Maud's, I feel compelled--literally, for the first time that I can remember, and at the ripe age of 37--to go out and try to find a poster of Maud (Francoise Fabian), and hang it up in my apartment. Weird.

It is difficult to pinpoint, exactly what point in the film I realized that I was indeed, smitten, because at first, Maud irritated me a little bit. I know that when she pulls her hand away from Vidal, I was starting to like her. But, I think I was officially, smitten, at that point where Jean-Louis and Vidal have just arrived at her apartment, and told her that they have been at church, at a Christmas Eve mass, and she deliciously admonishes them that they both "stink of holy water." Yep, I think that that was the exact moment that I realized that--with Maud--Eric Rohmer has, not only found a devastatingly entrancing actress in Francoise Fabian, but he has also created an intoxicating, stark, passionate, brutally honest, and utterly believable character.
Not to mention, a female character that--quite refreshingly--breaks with the trite habit of films back in the 1960s, to treat female beauty like it only comes with fair features and blonde hair.

Maud's honesty and directness is illuminated by the juxtaposition with, as Rahul Hamid puts it for senses of cinema, "Jean-Louis's self-deception...[and] sophomoric test of male self-control." In fact, Maud, throughout the glorious scene of Jean-Louis's night in her apartment (Rohmer's dialogue in this scene being some of the best I've ever heard), makes it easy to see how Jean-Louis and Vidal are suffering from--as Maud says--a "protracted adolescence." Dear god, between Vidal's pitiful groveling and Jean-Louis's fatuous (but admittedly harmless) "Jesus Complex," she really does command the scene.

But Jean-Louis's "protracted adolescence" shines bright enough without her around. We find Jean-Louis--after all--in the very first scene of the film, sitting in mass in a church, ogling his nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl. Which is fine, I guess, but for someone who goes on and on about his faith and self-control, you'd think that, at least at worship, he could focus on god. I would never detract from the kind of admirable integrity it takes to abstain from sex--especially the fleeting wonderfulness of a one-night stand--but Jean-Louis seems to be doing it because of some kind of self-righteous, self-deceptive, existential conundrum he is in the grips of, not for any kind of genuine spiritual goals. This glitch in Jean-Louis's reasoning is the defining quality of his whole half-hearted, only-when-it's-convenient kind of faith--it's based on odds and "wagers," not on "true faith." That whole wager of Pascal's, and how it applies to having faith, is as shoddy as "finding god" because you're in prison--I guess.

In the end, as we are given hints about the "painful irony" involving Jean-Louis's nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl, and Maud, we see that all of the praying and time spent in church, still didn't prevent the nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl--and all of her piousness--from being Maud's ex-husband's mistress. We get a hint of this indiscretion, from Vidal, earlier in the film, when he is introduced to the nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl (even though he obviously already knows her), and also when Jean-Louis and her meet Maud on the beach. Also, in the end, and as Rahul Hamid writes, there is that delicious sense of "wistful regret" between Maud and Jean- Louis, which is conveyed by their questions to each other, about visits to where they each are currently living. And how couldn't Jean-Louis regret passing Maud up? When we see her in that last scene, her hair is longer, and all down, and it looks even darker because of how tan she is, and she is wearing that splendid summer dress, and in general, just looking crushingly exquisite.

But, Jean-Louis has to go back to his nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl...

...idiot.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

That one tree outside of the orchard...


                                                                                                                                                                   Disclaimer: Aside from the fact that the following rant was written under the influence of cheap cognac, I am the son of a beautiful, faithful, and honest (to a fault) woman, who was wronged by an inherently good, but utterly lost man (my father, god bless his soul). I take infidelity very seriously, as it caused a lot of hurt and turmoil in my family, and thus, I must ask you--dear reader--to bear with the pervasive presence of cuss words in what follows. To edit, would be to rob the following words of their sincerity.



Carloss James Chamberlin, writing about Agnes Varda's, Le Bonheur, writes that "Jacques Demy, Varda's husband, thought the film's conclusion monstrous," and so do I--even if poor, sweet Therese accidently fell into the pond. Which is of course, bullshit, because it seems pretty obvious that she killed herself. The little flash of Therese struggling to save herself by grabbing the branch, in my eyes, is simply Francois--that treacherous fucker--attempting to alleviate some of his guilt, over the manifest fact that his wife drowned right after he told her of his affair. Chamberlin seems to agree that Therese killed herself as well, as he writes that "her action, which will change everything, and nothing, is a perverse token of her love."

Therese's death is the hinge of the story. After all, this is a story about "happiness" (or the lack there of), and the fact that Therese kills herself as a result of Francois' infidelity, makes his infidelity even worse, because it has caused Therese so much hurt, that she is driven to suicide. If we're supposed to believe that Therese is fine with Francois' fatuous doggerel about trees "outside of the orchard," and that her drowning is simply an accident, than it does indeed "change everything."

Or does it? Hasn't the damage already been done? When Francois cheated on his wife (and his children, because when people cheat on their spouses, whether they ignore the fact or not, it effects the children involved just as much), he was thinking about one person's "happiness"--his. And fuck him for it. Whether Therese accepts it or not, is beside the point of what makes this whole deal a wretched imbroglio to begin with--Francois being a selfish, weak-minded, predictable motherfucker.

But Therese does not accept it. After that treacherous fucker--Francois--lays that bullshit about orchards on Therese, she kills herself. Which leads to that "monstrous conclusion" that Varda's husband was talking about. This begins with Francois searching for Therese after he wakes up and she is missing. As he wanders around the park--with his poor children in tow--asking people if they've seen a "blonde," or a "blonde in a blue dress," or simply a "blue and yellow dress," he seems at this point, to have completely confused his wife with any other attractive "blonde in a blue dress." This carries on a similar theme from a montage earlier in the film, that consists of flashes of close-ups of Francois in bed with the two different women, at different times. They just blur together, as if it doesn't make any difference who Francois is in bed with.

Then comes the final "monstrous" montage, to some kind of manic, demonic music from Mozart, showing Francois getting right on with his life (like Therese's death was no big deal), and moving Emilie right into Therese's place--with the kids and everything. And...well, all appears to be just fine.

Or is it? In the final scene (now in the Fall), we have Francois and Emilie and the children walking through the woods, and all of the colors in the scene are browns and yellows (even the clothes that Francois and Emilie are wearing)--except for the kids, whose bright red outfits undeniably contrast sharply with everything in the scene. Varda is clearly conveying the sense that something does not fit--something is messing up Francois' little utopia. That would seem to be the kids--two little walking, talking reminders of poor, sweet Therese. 




Thursday, October 2, 2008

"...a kind of death."

Generally, I support most everything that feminists fight for, and agree with them about all of the problems in the world of old, wealthy, white men. Hell, I even accept most of what Laura Mulvey has had to say (regardless of how manic it seems at times). With this said, Agnes Varda has created a female character in Cleo From 5 to 7, that is difficult to empathize with, or for that matter, feel commiserative towards.

Despite the admittedly omnipotent, oppressive, and ubiquitous nature of patriarchal domination in our world (to this day, let alone back in the early 1960s), Cleopatra is simply not a happy or content human being, and thus, says and does a lot of contemptible shit. Yes, she is treated like a spoiled child by her caretaker-lady, and by her older-gentleman-lover-friend, and by the pianist, but how else do you react to a grown person who throws temper tantrums all of the time (even in public places)? But to answer this question, it seems necessary to first figure out if Cleopatra is a product of her environment, or if her environment is a product of her? She is the one--after all--who wants to be the music star.

This dilemma is analogous to--for instance--the demons and nasferatus of our modern media juggernaut, complaining about being hounded by the paparazzi. It makes you want to say...



"...are you really serious...Princess Diana decides to be a...well...a princess...and consequently, dies as a result of the kind of attention that accompanies that kind of status...and...compared to all of the heartbreaking war and starvation and suffering and poverty and chaos on this planet at this very moment...at any moment...we're supposed to care about what?"



That may be me coming at this obliquely...maybe. If so, Varda conveys the idea I'm trying to get across here, by including news broadcasts and conversations throughout the film, about debacles like Algeria's war for independence (which France and its cursed colonial proclivities deserved to lose and suffer for) and all of the other unrest and chaos occurring elsewhere. Of course Cleopatra is completely oblivious to all of this war and chaos--but by including it in the film, Varda is illuminating how comparatively fatuous and trivial the majority of Cleopatra's problems are.

But not to her, which is understandable to some degree, because all humans have to deal with things like fear and doubt and loneliness sometimes. And Cleopatra is also dealing with the anxiety--after all--of waiting for the test results that could tell her that she has cancer. The problem begins when she stops counting her blessings, starts taking things for granted, and thus, ignores the fact that there is always a multitude of other human beings suffering far more than her (of course, this applies to any of us who live in even moderate prosperity and comfort).

Anyways, it isn't only Cleopatra's indifference to all of the disheartening shit happening elsewhere in France and the world, that makes her contemptible to me--it's also her pride and vanity (which I do acknowledge can be a result of inherent pressures of the patriarchal world she lives in, although I still feel that that is a lame excuse). Like her model friend says when her and Cleopatra are discussing being nude in public: "My body makes me happy, not proud." This is an alien concept to someone like Cleopatra, who is in a perpetual state of myopic intoxication, from the elixir of self-exultation. What's worse, is that her self-exultation is rooted in something as shallow and fleeting as physical beauty.

Although it sounds utterly cliche, we all nevertheless know it to be true--someone can be completely beautiful on the outside, and at the same time, acutely hideous on the inside. And in this regard, and as Cleopatra herself states in the film, the cancer just may be too late, if indeed "ugliness is a kind of death."