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“Boyhood”, first of all, is original, as in, nothing like it has ever been done. The one project that comes close is Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series, which, unlike this film, was spread out over five films made individually over the course of twenty years, 1959-79, not filming every year nor editing into one film, nor made with that specific linking in mind. Truffaut’s films, some of my favorites of all time, are frequently conjured by Linklater’s (the ‘Before’ series is very similar to its ‘Doinel’ predecessor), and both directors share a love of time and memory and the poetry of the everyday, and like to work with the same actors and crews to achieve different results.

This new film has an understated aesthetic that belies its epic production–each year for 12 years, the group came together for a week of shooting, then returned back to lives and careers until the following year, and again, and again, each character growing older, the younger ones changing drastically, literally growing up in a fictional film. Linklater, of course, spent much more time on the project. Simply to have that vision and trust (what if the kids turn out to be awful actors? What if they suddenly hate the movie and refuse to shoot after a certain age?) is a great achievement. Truffaut, in Love on the Run, the final Doinel film, includes a series of montaged look-backs, as if he were wishing he could have had the foresight to do what Linklater has done.

The film itself, just as a film, is wonderful. It is quotidian, in the very basic sense of the term. Daily. It’s scenes are normal, mundane scenes with little in the way of revelation or narrative epiphany, and, when they do hold these, immediately follow them up with a quick return to regular movements and tasks and thoughts. There is dramatic storyline, but it’s always tempered within the greater narrative, which is simply, almost unsparingly, the passage of time. Linklater has talked about the way we live our lives and formulate our memories: we are never truly in the moment and only remember it as being that way, which is exactly how the movie is shot, in bright moments followed quickly by dull ones. This is why, for example, a scene of the four kids lounging around as if on any normal Summer afternoon works so perfectly when it comes immediately after one of the most intense scenes in the film–a violent, dangerous outburst by one of the mother’s (Patricia Arquette) husbands (she goes through a few).

The plotted scenes, despite the fact that they feel imposed (again, much as you notice life’s ‘memories’ imposing themselves on your past), are done in such a subtle and bathetic way that they become what they actually are, unhighlighted and unchampioned moments among many, promptly usurped by those following. This happens too with the dialogue. When a ‘meaningful’ quote is spoken by one of the characters, the audience (at least the one I was a part of) at first laughs, uncomfortably, ready to mock the film, and then, seeing that the characters are themselves skeptical and quickly overwhelmed by the continuation of the day, begins to realize that in our own lives we want desperately to believe in these aphorisms as somehow weighted. And they’re not, and the film demonstrates this, and after our embarrassment we gradually feel a great appreciation, because the film shows this in an utterly uncynical way. What we were so ready to mock does not mock us in return (Linklater is so adept at this–his films are frequently ‘cool’, about ‘cool’ people, but they do not shove this in our face, nor hold it out tauntingly, which in the end makes them feel even cooler).

There are also occasionally inserted a different kind of imposed moment that are so lovingly, gently done they are like jewels. They highlight ideas Linklater wants to discuss that are marginally extraneous to the main family/time narrative. One of these involves a Mexican immigrant with an American Dream, another (for me the most moving of all) unfolds in a brief and simple turn of the torso revealing a ‘Corrections’ jacket, worn by a neglected and dejected American Veteran. It is a short story in a shot, which, again, feels keenly akin to how we notice our actual lives.

Linklater has the rare ability to make perfect films. This is in the sense that they build up something that never crashes, sometimes that does not even slump, they rise and rise and you find yourself sitting on the edge of you seat, seemingly hoping against hope, and then, magically, they end, without ever having let you down. So many movies let you down–even really good ones, if only briefly. Not these. It could be that the way Linklater makes his films–technically simple, naturally dialogued and acted–precludes structures that are too rigid or flashy to sustain themselves. Or it could be that he’s just a genius. The ‘Before’ movies, particularly the first and the third, proceed in just this way–they are flawless, flowing, masterpieces of cinema. Slacker and Dazed and Confused (and I’d say Bernie too) are nearly there as well. Boyhood now joins those top films. Linklater is one of our greatest living American directors, and he does it all from an indie base in Austin. This is such an obvious, in-our-current-artistic-climate-scarce reason for joy it makes me happy just to know he is out there.

See it.

boyhood-richard linklater


From → Watchings

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