Paedophilia makes a controversial appearance in TODD SOLANDZ's excellent film, Happiness. Words: Andrew Pulver
Four years ago. Todd Solond'l. electrified audiences with Welcmne To The Doll/muse. a low-budget film about a victimised schoolkid whose wince-inducing story was told with a measured dose of cruelly acidic humour. Now he‘s repeated the trick with Happiness. a savage depiction of warped New Jersey lives that‘s as funny as it is dispiriting. However. Happiness has already drawn copious amounts of criticism for including a paedophile rapist as one of its main characters.
‘The fact is there’s nothing in my movie that isn‘t discussed on talk shows and in tabloids every day of the week.‘ argues Solondz. who is clear in his film‘s defence. ‘The tragedy of this pederast is that he's a great father who loves his family — that he‘s not so much a monster. as a man with a monster within. He succumbs to this demon. and he transgresses. and that is what is unforgivable. For me. the themes of the movie have to do with loneliess and desire. with alienation and the desire to connect.‘
To this end. Solondz has brought together an ensemble cast to play a set of characters who. one and all. succumb to their own personal demons. ‘We all have a capacity for cruelty lying inside us. It didn‘t evaporate with the seventh grade. The best of us know how to sublimate and rechannel these baser instincts. but they are there to some degree. whether or not we like it.'
Irony underpins Solondz's world-\iew: it shouldn't be doubted. for example. that genuine 'happiness' is in very short supply in his movie. For all his distinctive style. however. the director finds himself at the centre of a fashionany ’nasty‘ filmmaking movement — Happiness- shares a viciousness of wit with films like Your Friends And .\"eig/i/murs. Very Bad Things and. at least in terms of masturbation jokes. There 's Sinner/ting Alma! Marv.
'All these people are bleeding souls.‘ he explains. ‘I feel you understand the anguish that they’re experiencing. and I'm moved by that. At the same time. l also find it funny. People may criticise the movie for being funny. but I think it would be unbearable without that. But if people are laughing because they feel superior to what they‘re looking at.
'There's nothing in my movie that isn't discussed on talk shows and in tabloids every day of the week.’ Todd Solandz
Movie spectacle: Todd Solandz directs Happiness
then I‘d have a problem with that.‘
lntriguingly. Solondz cites Mike Leigh‘s Secrets- And Lies as his principal inspiration for Happiness. ‘I had four or five separate story ideas. but I didn‘t want to make a whole movie about any one of them. I tried to see if there was a way I could combine them to discover any common themes. and to do that I thought of Secrets Anrl Lies.‘
But Solondz‘s principal achievement lies in his effortless handling of potentially outrageous material. refusing to offer sledgehammer moralising for even the most emotive of topics. One scene that's sure to become legendary involves the aforementioned paedophile explaining to his small son what his actions mean.
‘I knew it would be a challenge to find a kid for that scene. because finding a kid also meant finding parents who would support this kind of project.‘ Solandz says. ‘Rufus‘s parents felt that he would grow from the experience. They made a leap of faith with me that I would lend a certain dignity to the performance. as I made a leap of faith with them that they’d stick with me to the end.’
Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Cameo from Fri 7 May. See review.
Lights, camera, action . . .
GREGORY’S TWO GIRLS, Bill Forsyth's semi-sequel to 1980’s much-loved Cumbernauld-set comedy Gregory’s Girl is due for a UK cinema release this autumn. The new film again stars John Gordon Sinclair, this time as an English teacher caught in a romantic triangle with a sexy young schoolgirl and woman closer to his own age. Maria Doyle Kennedy (The Commitments) and Dougray Scott (This Year’s Love) also star.
ROBERT BRESSON, DIRECTOR of Diary Of A Country Priest, Lancelot Du Lac and L’Argent is the subject of a major retrospective at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival. The 82-year-old Frenchman, famed for his austere style, is widely regarded in critical circles as one of the greatest living directors, but his work rarely is screened in this country.
In other Film Festival news, film distributor and independent production company Pathé has reconfirmed its sponsorship of the Focus On British Cinema section. The Festival has also recently appointed Nicola Pearson, formerly at Stirling's MacRobert Arts Centre, to the post of Programmer, while Penny Mills moves from Press Officer at the Edinburgh International Festival to EIFF Marketing Manager.
SHORT FILM HOME has won the Best Short Film Award at this year's BAFTAs. Made by Scottish trio Morag McKinnon (director), Colin McLaren (writer) and Hannah Lewis (producer), it follows a Glaswegian housing officer on his daily rounds. McLaren and McKinnon are currently collaborating on a feature, Good Evening, for FilmFour.
PETER MULLAN, WHOSE directorial debut Orphans is currently on release, has indicated that his next project behind the camera could be based on the Magdalene Homes in Ireland. Set in the post-WW2 period, it will examine the plight of 'fallen women’ who were effectively imprisoned by the Catholic Church. Lancelot Du Lac: part of the Bresson retro at EIFF
29 Apr—l3 May 1999 THE “ST 19