The 24 Hour Woman

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The 24 HourWoman directed by NancySavoca
Ten yearsinto her movie career, Rosie Perez plays a spoiled white woman's fantasyin The 24 Hour Woman. This isn't progress; it's a trap. AsGrace Santos, she suffers arriviste abundance: work at a New York televisionshow, marriage to an up-and-coming actor, a comfortable apartment andfertility. Grace already has everything but adding a baby doesn't permitenough time in the day to do it all to her satisfaction. You can't missthe parallel to what mainstream recognition, an Academy Award nomination andhotshot celebrity status have secured for Perez. But her rise from the squeaky-voiced,salty-tongued ghetto queen of Do the Right Thing?she had recognizablerough edges?to blandly representing director Nancy Savoca's middle-class aspirations, zaps the charm out of Perez's difference. The 24Hour Woman may, unintentionally, be the movies' ultimate argument againstbootstrap individualism.
Similar pandering occurredin Stepmom's shallow treatment of female parenting?whetherhomebody (Susan Sarandon) or worldly (Julia Roberts). Director Chris Columbuswas mostly in awe of the material trappings of domestic problems (as he was in Home Alone); he extrapolated average homemaking crises into well-appointedexamples that misrepresented the common problem. If most harried American momshad the money the Sarandon and Roberts characters took for granted, they wouldn't be harried. That doesn't stop working-class women from crying along withthe Roberts-Sarandon soap opera, but that they so easily accept and identifywith such elevated, envy-inducing hogwash is part of the problem independentfilmmakers like Savoca and Perez were expected to solve. Instead, The 24 HourWoman exemplifies a wack solidarity among privileged women who, having lefttheir working-class pasts with the laundry, only worry about their box-officeclock running out. Savoca (who also directed the unpalatable Household Saintsand the enervated Dogfight) perpetrates a Stepmom-like ignoranceof women's political circumstances. (Her HBO movie If These Walls CouldTalk was simplistic pro-abortion propaganda in which three decades of renterssubmitted themselves to uterine scraping?it should have been called TheAmityville Abortion House.) Stocking Grace's tv station with competitive/nurturingfemale workers (as if the Girl Scouts were an employment agency), she servesup the indie filmmaker's version of Hollywood escapism?offering self-righteousnessinstead of sentimentality. Taking for granted women's right to work outsidethe home, Savoca ignores its advantages (that Grace can afford her own white-girl,grad-student nanny) while also ignoring genuine aspects of parenting. Buyingan expensive present or arranging an elaborate first birthday party exposesSavoca's bourgeois showing-off. For her, purchasing power has supplantedparental instinct?Barbra Streisand conveyed more stressed-out caring withjust a look in Up the Sandbox. No single scene suggests a credible maternalpoint of view, but from Grace's obviously younger husband (Diego Serrano)to the sex-switch brouhaha finale featuring a husband in drag, "comic"gunplay and a dyke producer (Patti LuPone), The 24 Hour Woman simplytots up specious points?of entitlement and vengeance. Hollywood feminism has notworked out any form of racial unity. You can't find female indies or feministspokeswomen willing to stand up for the portraits of female experience in TheColor Purple, The Players Club, Beloved or even Shadrach.It's as if feminists only support white icons?which is to say femalecharacters who sufficiently represent white middle-class problems and white-middleclass privilege. Saint Grace isn't far from the bitchy prima donnas JillClayburgh bored the world with in It's My Turn and I'm Dancingas Fast as I Can. And Grace's working-mother problems are less entertainingthan Diane Keaton made them in the otherwise wretched Baby Boom. It must be careerism thatgot Rosie Perez tied up in Savoca's overindulged polemic. Perez may haveregretted missing out on Darnell Martin's I Like It Like That (afine assessment of the Latino woman's sense of individuality and home ethic)or even LisaRaye's role in Ice Cube's The Players Club. Thosemovies were convincing proof that black and Latino women pose their domesticdilemmas with cultural and behavioral essences distinct from what Savoca knows.The disappointed bride of Savoca's first film True Love was a feministdisaster?a spoiled brat. And The 24 Hour Woman hints that Savoca'sstill insensitive to the world around her?especially in the slack rapportbetween Perez (her edges hard but dull) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (who hasthe friendliest face in modern movies). Savoca imagines that thespecial conditions of her success and privilege match the general conditionsof female struggle. That may be why white feminist cineastes regularly showthemselves indifferent to the differences that make their sisters interesting?andwrapping Rosie Perez in Sandra Bullock castoffs or shunting Marianne Jean-Baptisteto the periphery only keeps the white feminist imperative from expressing theLatino or black experience. Watching Rosie Perez go yuppie you know Nancy Savocaonly related to her worst?most assimilated?aspects. That boriqua wildnessSpike Lee first showcased was remarkable and fresh but it was Jennifer Lopezwho got to be complex and psychological in Out of Sight and Salma Hayekwho extended spitfire sexuality into luster (and Revlon commercials). Perezis left seeming an also-ran, like Rosana De Soto who plays her mother here,but once seemed a promising star when cast as Ritchie Valens' mother inLa Bamba more than 10 years ago. The 24 Hour Womanis not an authentic female story (as was Beloved or even Altman'sKansas City). Savoca doesn't understand racial or sexual differencesany better than the class differences she completely neglects. That's whatkills so much indie filmmaking: class presumptions that turn the whole worldinto yuppies and reduce the one-of-all-kinds Rosie Perez into just another starwith Pre-Millennial-Selfishness.
Les Damesdes Bois de Boulogne

directedby Robert Bresson

Inanswer to a recent loony assertion that Chantal Akerman, Agnieszka Holland,Claire Denis and Jane Campion made films superior to those of Fellini, Antonioni,Truffaut and Bergman, consider the tradition of the male European's high-artview of women?in Robert Bresson's Les Dames des Bois de Boulogneand Jacques Demy's Lola. Such insight transcends gender. Same-sexempathy can't best it and feminist politics can't (apparently) appreciateit. Bresson's 1945 submersion into the malaise of soul-sick Parisians showsaristocratic Helene (Maria Casares) using a young nightclub dancer, Agnes (ElinaLabourdette), to avenge herself against a faithless lover, Jean (Paul Bernard).This good vs. evil tale (from Diderot, with dialogue by Jean Cocteau) was neverso well understood as when?decades later?its fatalistic glamour wasborrowed by Demy for his directorial debut.
Lola (1961) is thetemperamental opposite of Bresson's spiritual austerity; Demy's gaietyfilters Bresson's heaviness. He naturally reinterpreted Bresson'sambiguous drama of deception and sincerity as a sign of romantic faith?andhe's more right than may be first apparent. I'm exploring an esthetictheory here, but my proof is an image?a vestige?that Demy took fromBresson. A photograph of Elina Labourdette as Agnes in her working-girl costume?doingsplits?is glimpsed in Lola propped up on a mantel as a souvenirof Labourdette's (now playing Mme. Desnoyers) youth. This still from LesDames suggests a history for Mme. Desnoyers but it also endows her situationas a lonely widow and single mother with a glamorous myth. Working on two levels?asa narrative element and culture residue?the photograph vibrates betweendream and "reality." Demy transforms Agnes' agony, brighteningit into Mme. Desnoyers' romantic endurance. When his prostitute heroineLola (Anouk Aimee) appears in a soubrette's get-up resembling Agnes'top hat (a blunt statement of what Bresson implied), Demy establishes a continuityof human experience?female endeavor?derived from the movie past butvivid as life. This extraordinary connectioncan be contemplated endlessly for the signal expression of love as the mosttranscendental of earthly struggles?consistent with Bresson's religiousemphasis and Demy's cinematic references. When Cocteau borrowed from Bressonfor Orpheus, he cast Casares in her black, flowing gowns to repeat herperformance?as Death. Demy uses Labourdette's insouciance. Her gracefulgestures and radiant smile fondly recall a movie past that is key to the NewWave's sense of pop as real experience. (You can imagine Demy hoardinghis Les Dames still the way the Truffaut character filched the CitizenKane still in Day for Night.) This effectively takes Bresson outof the high-art ghetto and defies the patriarchal condescension cynics see inthe art film tradition. But what could be more condescending than the notionof household or office saints? Demy, like Bresson, shows women's and men'ssouls working through life. Bresson movies (now showingat the Museum of Modern Art) are not known for their sociability or ecstasy.Though somber, Les Dames has a nominally happy ending yet the dreamlikeinevitability of his film relates to what Demy insists upon as joyful and essentialin cinema. Fate makes relentless claim on all these characters but it'sLola (the greater, least hermetic of the two films) that clarifies happinessas indivisible from sorrow. Les Dames is the film that introduced theline that weaves through modernist European cinema: "There is no love,only signs of love." (Check The Young Girls of Rochefort andStealing Beauty.) The same could be said for the ubiquitous photo of Labourdette.It's a reverse memento mori?a significant artifact of how moviescapture life.

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