Tickets [subtitled]

Tickets

I’m actually a little surprised I liked Tickets as much as I did.

In effect it’s the equivalent of three short films of thirty to forty minutes each. They all take place on a train traveling through Italy, but there is only the slightest overlap among them. The first has almost no action and has to be watched closely to understand the psychology of what’s going on, and to pick up on what is only being imagined by the main character. The second has only a bit more action. The third has the most, but would likely still be a little slow for people used to mainstream movies. With all three you have to contend with subtitles.

Yet I stayed at least moderately interested throughout the film. I was the most entertained by the third story, but really I cared about the characters in all three, and they all provided a lot to think about.

I’m not always that great at picking up what constitutes good filmmaking, and even less am I able to articulate it, but I really felt with this movie that I was witnessing excellence in filmmaking, that that’s why this movie that by its description should have been just OK and kind of a chore to get through, in fact drew me in as well as all but the top maybe 10%-20% of the movies I’ve written about so far.

It’s a collaborative effort of three name foreign directors—Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach, and Ermanno Olmi—each tackling one story. That could easily lead to a “too many cooks spoil the broth” situation, so I’m even more pleasantly surprised it is as good as it is.

So what did I like about the filmmaking?

One, I don’t recall a single thing a character said or did that was a clear “There’s no way that would happen in real life.” I didn’t have to suspend disbelief just because it was a movie.

Two, it was never predictable, never formulaic. If I had guessed along the way is this person lying or telling the truth, or who will turn out to be right in this conflict, or is this person well or ill-motivated toward this person, or is this a person I’ll like more or like less by the end of the film, my success rate would have been no better than if I’d flipped coins.

Three, it dealt with intelligent, adult themes that are of interest to me, and it addressed them with subtlety and insight.

Four, there were unconventional aspects to how some of the scenes were shot, and for a change they actually worked for me rather than just seeming gimmicky or pointlessly making the film more obscure. (I’ve often used the term “artsy” in a derogatory sense in these pieces to describe when these unconventional maneuvers fail.) For example, a dialogue where the camera stays on one of the two parties the entire time instead of switching back and forth. Or a scene shot entirely from the perspective of someone peeking through a window partially covered by blinds. For whatever reason, these things are effective in this movie.

Five, even though there’s really nothing in the way of jokes per se, I got some laughs from the movie—really almost all in the third story about the Scottish soccer fans—just from how crisp and clever (though not phony) the dialogue is. (Very glad they subtitled that third story by the way. They were speaking English, but I would have been lucky to understand 25% of it without the subtitles.) The back and forth with their Scottish slang is a hoot.

Six, almost every scene, every piece of dialogue, is well-constructed and psychologically interesting in how the people interact, even when it is not crucial to moving along the plot. It’s as if the filmmakers’ attention is not limited to the functional; along the way they’re showing other things happening to these characters as they might happen in real life, and thereby letting us gradually understand them better. And not just the main characters—even the peripheral characters seem like interesting flesh and blood people; we’re not shown just whatever one dimension of them is necessary for their role in someone else’s story.

There have been several movies I didn’t get into that much, where I suspected it might have been in part because I just wasn’t that much in the mood for a movie and didn’t really give it a fair chance. It’s possible this is the reverse phenomenon, that this film happened to catch me on the right day when I was more receptive to its style than I would normally be.

But I really think that Tickets just hits all the right notes to get the most that could realistically be expected out of its concept.

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