A contemporary portrait painter living in the ghetto -- a late-blooming Chinese-American actress -- both on the brink of their "big breaks" meet contradictory fates in their pursuit of success, but are ultimately fated to reunite.
·ONE PARAGRAPH SYNOPSIS
Rufus Hockenberry, a contemporary portrait painter living in the "Third World" of Los Angeles, meets Cindy Mu, a Chinese-American actress catering an art opening. Her father's dying wish is to have his ancestral portrait done in oil. Cindy resurrects Rufus's passion as a painter, and his portrait of her father miraculously resurrects Mr. Mu from his stroke-induced coma -- just as Cindy has inspired Rufus from his own coma of depression. Rufus declares his love, but Cindy is fearful of romance. She has no time or mental space for such, but suggests they might agree to be "erotic friends" as a matter of mutual convenience. Cindy gets her big break: a leading role in a television series that sends her to Vancouver and "saves" her from love. During seven years of separation, Rufus loses everything - his studio, his life's work -- and nearly his life. He slowly rebuilds himself and one day discovers the one thing not taken from him is something he never knew he had -- Cindy Mu's love -- and her devotion to the child that long-denied love brought into being.
MEETING VAN GOGH is a drama of intimacy that examines the human spirit under the stress of dilemmas created by sex, romance, violence, social status, drugs, ambition. To state its theme broadly: it's about maintaining grace under pressure.
The story derives from the details of daily life that recognizes the god of small things. No shootouts, no exposés, no social movements. It deals with the broken shoelaces of life, the flutter of wings, brush strokes, the mysterious texture of life itself -- ie, it embraces the small mysteries without posturing explanations.
In very general terms, filmmaking seems to branch in two basic directions that reflect the dichotomy of those first films made in France a century ago by the Lumière brothers and George Meliés. In the simplest terms, there are films that derive their power from fantasy and those more rooted in reality. Of course most films are rife with cross-pollination and the variations are infinite. But this original split between fantasy-based and reality-based films, reflects another less obvious divide in approach.
The most dominant and successful approach (at least when measured at the box office) is what I call the directive method. In this approach the film sets out to engage us by evoking a predictable series of reactions, kinetic thrills, and conclusions directed by a sequence of setups and payoffs. Screenwriting courses teach this classic method. Now there are even computer programs that help guide writers in their working of the traditional formulas. This is a cinema of satisfying conclusions running down the track with the fierce and relentless drive of the locomotive.
At their best, such films employ a fresh set of characters and situations and the talent of major stars to deliver a satisfying roller coaster ride we know will eventually deliver us back to the station, sweating a bit with an elevated heartbeat, but unchanged. With the finest of such films, we will be surprised as it is happening, perhaps even enlightened, and certainly we will be entertained. With the greatest, we will even be left with something that lingers.
While I love such films, the movies that seem to linger longest in mind and heart are those more problematic films that that attempt to reflect human existence as it is. Films that acknowledge that life is a mystery and relish the poetry in the commonplace.
Such films are generally less overtly commercial and must engage us without the polished luxuries of their big budget cousins. They often depend on sincerity and spirit rather than production values. Films that refuse to manipulate or dictate and dare to forge ahead without the benefit of a luxurious Pullman car -- but instead invite us to travel in a shaky cart pulled by a slightly footsore donkey down a winding trail where the destination might be in doubt.
This style of filmmaking, is admittedly, risky. It is not overtly commercial or pandering. Its slightly "zen" approach is made even more difficult since most of today's audiences have been programmed by the skilled non-stop roller-coaster ride. But such films can and do succeed, despite the odds -- and are often simultaneously blessed and cursed as "art."
MEETING VAN GOGH hopes to be such a film at its best -- lucid, entertaining, funny, but engaging of mind and spirit as well. It doesn't claim a pedigree beyond that of pure-bred mutt -- and with gleeful wagging, joyfully barks out the requisite self-description : it's a love story with a happy ending, a kind of melancholy romantic comedy about the inconsolable among us. With genetic influences from DeSica, Jarmusch, Chaplin, Truffaut, Kieslowski.
At this point, perhaps we can bring Rufus Hockenberry, the film's protagonist, on stage and watch his antic ballet as he scrawls a note on style in burnt umber: straightforward, raw, elegant -- but understated. A jazz ballad imagined by a 21st century Chopin! Then he can make mention of a few independent mutts of the past who've snuck into the box office station against all the odds: DAVID AND LISA, BIG NIGHT, FIVE EASY PIECES, BREAKING AWAY, STRANGER THAN PARADISE, BADLANDS, SECAUCUS SEVEN, THE BROTHERS MULLIN, CLERKS, THE STRAIGHT STORY, AMERICAN BEAUTY.
All of these are low, extremely low, or modestly budgeted AMERICAN films that wanted to say something their more conventional cousins barreling down the tracks, couldn't or didn't have time for. There are many dozens more, to say nothing of their European and Asian brethren -- films that wooed their audience with charm, honesty, and originality, rather than "concept" or gimmick or big star and big adventure or big story rendered with big budget professionalism.
The story is genuinely "multi-ethnic" without being self-conscious or trying to be all things to all people. In other words, an honest reflection of the mixed-up social interplay of Los Angeles without politically correct pandering -- or trying to make a drama out of it.
The film depicts the real consequences of violence, while refusing to play upon the seductive facileness of revenge. It illustrates the nightmare pleasures of drug addiction, without condemning the addict. In other words, the film is "Buddhist" in attitude -- without mentioning or being self-conscious about it.
The story is a true one -- both literally and as metaphor. Its authenticity can inspire not only the actors, but offer those lingering pleasures residing in those rare films that prefer not to manipulate the audience into feeling, but simply present a guileless openness that allows the audience to enter in its own way.
The story may well have a particular generational appeal to that audience that is between "boomer" and "generation x" -- a generation I think is often overlooked -- although it is hoped the film will be regarded as trans-generational and timeless.
On a personal note: having lived this story myself , I have first hand knowledge of the people who inhabit it. My familiarity with the people and events will allow for spontaneity and flexibility in the production, without losing the force and flow of the drama.
The chief asset of MEETING VAN GOGH is simply that it's a true story that will be told with heart, nuance, passion and sincerity -- and as much beauty and style as can be mustered.