The opening shot a déjà vu feeling. In film and in reality.
The famous crane shot in Gone with the Wind and its merciless exposition of the destruction of Atlanta (and the South and its army).
The rubble of countless contemporary cities in the wake of war and ethnic/religious conflict.
A sequence mediated by familiar images of recent news coverage. An uncanny moment of recognition.
The lingering uneasiness left by the contemplation of ruins—real and metaphorical—in our current holiday context two years in a pandemic that has exploded our comfort zones.
A mirror effect that leaves the viewer hanging.
How far will reality encroach on fiction?
If the beautiful songs sound familiar, their resonance has changed indeed. We are prevented from indulging in any kind of nostalgia. The pervasive violence, the faces full of hatred and the overall sense of loss and aimlessness cannot follow their usual cathartic trajectory.
The romance is there but the characters themselves look uncertain of their ability to make us dream. The Spielberg cinematic magic is stranded.
Each scene flags its own contemporary urgency and topicality.
The poor displaced by gentrification, gang violence, turf wars, conflicted definitions of citizenry, gender issues, identity politics. The easy purchase of firearms. The havoc wreaked on communities by prejudice and fear and anger. The sense of aimlessness. The addiction to violence.
Guns or knives tear bodies apart.
The peacemakers’ voices are silenced.
Women are given pride of place. The character of Valentina has replaced Doc as his widowed but resilient wife. Women as witnesses and agents of resistance. And change.
The scene at the Cloisters.
Old stones still standing to be opposed to the city ruins of the opening shot?
The link with a sacred that has deserted our disenchanted world?
The characters are briefly allowed to bridge the gap between their fraught finitude and some eternity. To inscribe their lives in the power of sincere performative words. To “find a place somewhere” perhaps, in the temporality that Love suddenly ushers.
A highlight: the group sequences, where dancing redeems the soul and saves the body from damage. Of special note: the America song which takes place through an urban space successfully negotiated, where human resilience is expressed in the lightness of a foot or the boldness of a gaze. A celebration of life that retrieves for us the wonder of the experience of movie-going. Like the long-lost Eurydice recovered from Hades.
But soon enough Orpheus will look back, past the film drama into the reality beyond the frame. Characters stop. Our imagination freezes. And whatever illusion of enchantment there was has now vanished.
Will we turn to Matrix for comfort or will we return to the world outside the movie theatre resolved to find in our midst “a place for us” ?