A Curtain Raiser [subtitled]

A Curtain Raiser

I think this French short is just the right length (about a half hour). If it were much shorter, it wouldn’t have felt as weighty, and if it were a full length movie, I think I would have gotten bored.

A Curtain Raiser is an interesting little vignette about the dynamics of a relationship. It opens with the protagonist waiting for his girlfriend. He is lamenting to his friend that she is always very late, in spite of his telling her repeatedly how inconsiderate it is, and in spite of his telling her the most recent time that he will end the relationship if she is late again. She arrives (fifty minutes late), the friend makes some effort to reconcile them and then leaves, and he tries to stick to his guns and enforce his ultimatum while she tries to charm him out of it. (She’s cute, and he’s admittedly totally in love with her, so she’s the favorite in this contest.)

I thought the dialogue was mostly good, and that in its way this little film raises some interesting questions about the psychology of a relationship. (The thought did cross my mind, though, that if this were a young American couple speaking English, maybe some of the attempts at philosophizing and such would strike me as more lame and pretentious. I’m not sure.)

On the one hand, as the friend and the girl say, you can condemn the guy for being kind of silly and rigid in refusing to tolerate something that’s really not that big a flaw in the grand scheme of things. (The friend does manifest a certain bemused admiration or at least tolerance for this arguably misguided insistence on principle though. I thought that whole dynamic between the friends was well done.) As she says, if anything shouldn’t you be even more willing to overlook flaws in someone you love?

On the other hand, you can understand that a person has to draw a line somewhere. He feels like he’s put up with significant inconsiderate behavior for an extended period of time, that he’s communicated his displeasure over it respectfully and repeatedly, that there’s seemingly been no effort on her part to change the behavior, and that he gave her more than fair warning of where he was drawing the line that would end the relationship if she stepped over it.

An interesting angle that the film really doesn’t address—at least not explicitly—is that the dynamics of a relationship can easily play out to where precisely by not succumbing to her and letting her off, he increases the chances of their relationship surviving. That is—as my dating coach friend would insist—relationships, especially in the early going, are all about these little power plays where a woman will test limits to see how much she can get away with, and if she finds the guy too malleable then she will quickly lose interest. So the idea is, a woman wants a guy to stand up to her, to make it clear that she’ll only get to be with him if she behaves herself. And that’ll impress her, that’ll show her he’s willing to forego being with her if need be, and then she’ll value being with him all the more.

I think what’s admirable about this guy in a way, though, is that nothing he’s doing is strategic like that. He really is being a philosopher about it, trying to derive behavior from his concepts of ethics and self-respect and logical consistency and such.

The struggle is intriguing. He’s got it in his head (not totally unreasonably) that his principles require him to stick to his guns on this, but at the same time emotionally he wants to say, “Oh forget it, I’ll let it go just this one more time.”

I kind of had the feeling off and on that the film might be building to some big surprise ending, some too clever twist, and mostly I was rooting against that. I didn’t want it to turn out that somebody was betraying somebody, or “things are not as they seem” or whatever, because to me that would trivialize the issues, you know, if the relationship issues turned out to be just a set-up for some kind of shock ending or humorous ending or something. To its credit, though, it really doesn’t go off in a surprise direction like that. It sticks to a dignified, intelligent approach throughout.

I won’t say A Curtain Raiser is a great film, but it drew me in. The characters, the situation, and the decisionmaking, felt very real to me.

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