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Selected as the official film for the Chicago Latino Film Festival’s annual Tribute to Argentina is Carlos Jaureguialzo’s Marriage/Matrimonio. In qualifying Marriage as inspired by James Joyce’s Ulysses, as well as anchoring it to Simone de Beauvoir—and therefore her relationship with Sartre—by flashing a quote of hers before the final credits roll, Jaureguialzo sluices into this seeming love story enough philosophical and psychoanalytical depth to warrant a companion guide. And perhaps a rash.
It’s also what makes this film incredibly refreshing in its depiction of what can be a tired, estrogen romp into the pink wilderness nestled ever close to Lifetime, Oprah and the like.
For instance, Beauvoir’s novel, The Second Sex, her greatest contribution to thought, is cited as crucial in the women’s liberation movement. Ulysses’ Molly cheated on her husband. She doesn’t show up in the book until the very last chapter and was looked upon by Joyce himself as his interpretation of the essence of a woman in the form of a word: “Yes.”
These are crass renderings of sophisticated people and works, admittedly. But the points stand. And in their hostile bookends play out Jaureguialzo’s Marriage.
Beginning with a truly elegant opening credit sequence, we hear the sounds of a composer quietly and clumsily working through a passage, like development in the womb—fingertips, eyes, eventually a heartbeat. Crickets chirp outside, careful inclusion of ink swelling at the tip of a pen, clotting enough to collapse under its weight. A twinkle of piano flourish escorts the event into the seams. From ink, we see drops of water, hear drops of water, relentless and almost tortuous sounds against that which is composed. John Cage couldn’t have done it better.
And then the music stops as Esteban—the husband—awakes. What does it all mean? Was this his dream? Was it a folding together of things that will pass, things that have passed, clues and puppy dog tails?
“Maybe we are supposed to get divorced,” he thinks to himself.
Esteban’s question seems pithy enough. But within the realm of Marriage, they take on an existential component most do not consider. As he leaves to begin his morning, he retreats into an interior place of ponder. How does he know he is in love with his wife? What if love is just obsession? What if he is obsessed with his obsession?
These are real questions but questions usually relegated to philosophy classes and late nights with friends. When couples fight and think of divorce, they usually don’t do so over the definition of love.
All the while, we have yet to hear from the other half, the better half(?), the wife, Molly. It’s a pitch with which we can do little but wait and wander and wonder with Esteban.
There’s an eventual reveal, and much like the last chapter of Ulysses, also known as “Molly’s Soliloquy,” much happens. This includes a numinous scene set to the best cover of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” I’ve ever heard by Ludmilala Durrieu. Arranged for just piano and voice, this is a minimalist interpretation, scrubbed clean of the improvised clutter that usually makes for the best type of jazz. No, Durrieu’s take is restrained with just a tendril of vibrato tinging the edge of each phrase. The piano feels like it could be the work of Molly Bloom, herself. This is yet another melding of the seams between score and screen that quietly brings Marriage to a place of brilliance.
Given the lyrics, the scene threatened to buckle. Instead, their simple and readily understood sentiment cushioned nicely the laconic and fleeting memory bits floating through Molly’s head, a survey of the happy, the sexy, the sad, the implacable Molly Bloom.
There’s much humor in Marriage, albeit it is a restrained, if not as eloquent as the opening credit sequence, humor. The same can be said for actors Cecilia Roth and Dario Grandinetti. Having reviewed The Jar, I’m quite familiar with Grandinetti’s ossifying stoicism pliant enough to convey both frown and smile simultaneously. In other scenes, he strikes an unresponsive posture, a prehensile stop to any momentum. Emerging when he does, it reminds you that he’s got things on his mind, an interior life where love might be obsession and his wife could be cheating on him and she could be depressed and, and, and.
Ulysses has its own informal holiday called Bloomsday. Not many books have a holiday involving a day of travel. Tempting as it is to fall into destination-journey patter, it is the relationship and existential dilemma of it that is really at the heart of Ulysses, at the heart of Boeauvoir and her ideas of becoming and now, at the heart of Marriage.