So, Your Humble Blogger doesn’t see a whole lot of movies these days. Particularly, of course, during rehearsal process for a play. As it happens, I have seen two movies this year, both picked more-or-less at random by myself and my Best Reader. They were both made in the last five years, both European films, both released last Spring in the US. I saw them both through a streaming service, where they turned up as recent and of interest. Here are other things they both have in common:
They both feature a famous lead actor (one male, one female) who have been winning awards for decades. Each plays a crabbed and elderly racist. Each lead character has not recovered from the death of a spouse; each has a testy (at best) relationship with an only child; each has one grandchild who is around, oh, eightish, very cute and smart and curly-headed. The child is the same sex as the lead character; the grandchild of the opposite sex. Each lead has withdrawn into themselves, attempting to keep a shell of the rituals of earlier, happier times. Each has money troubles. Each fends off a romantic approach that is supposed to be risible due to the age of the people involved. Each is shown attending religious services and with a relationship with the clergy at their local place of worship, which each also have financial troubles.
Each lead character winds up in a business relationship with a young person of colour, who is a small-time marijuana peddler. Each steps away from the kitchen whilst baking at one point, and each has someone else put marijuana into the dough without intending to. Each has a scene where elderly women unknowingly eat the tainted treat, with ensuing hilarity. Each wind up selling marijuana-laced pastries of various kinds. Each lead finds money troubles solved by the tremendous popularity of hash pastries. Each finds worse trouble and danger (from the police and from the dope-dealing organizations) than before. Their kitchens are destroyed and their loved ones are threatened. Each eventually helps the police to bust the local supplier.
And, of course, each overcomes their racism, expands horizons, learns, grows young at heart again, and generally wins the hearts of the audiences. That could go without saying. Oh, and there’s a trip to the seaside with the grandchild, in each film, of course.
Still. That’s a lot of similarities between two pictures made a couple of years apart. It’s also worth noting that I liked one of them a lot better than the other.
They are, in fact, very different movies with very different tones—the French one plays up how truly awful the lead is, and she really is financially desperate and chooses to sell drugs to make money. There is a (presumably) realistic depiction of below-the-poverty-line life. The violence is real and horrible. The happy ending is that Paulette and her family and close friends escape France altogether. The British one stars Jonathan Pryce, who is clearly a good old fellow despite his racism and grief. He is a professional baker, and while his bakery is in danger, he has a comfortable house and his son is a financially successful attorney—he won’t starve. What is at stake is the bakery, which was his father’s, and which is failing and being squeezed out by an evil developer. It’s the developer in this one, by the way, who is the real baddie; the dope supplier is a relatively minor figure. The violence is mild and mostly cartoonish, and the happy ending is that he keeps the bakery and stays where he is.
I think that difference in the ending is really emblematic of the difference in the two pictures. Dough is fundamentally traditionalist and formulaic. It is optimistic, and that optimism is based on a sort of deeply-rooted trust in tradition, played out within the film by the prayer traditions (the film delights, f’r’ex, in pairing the Jewish Orthodox ritual of hand-washing with the Moslem ritual of foot-washing) and the defense of the small mom-and-pop storefront over big corporations, among other things, and in the film-making itself by adherence to the expected formulas of traditional film-making. There are no surprises in Dough. Not in the overarching plot, not in the construction of the scenes. It’s all exactly what you expect it to be. As, I think it says, the world is, even if it looks unfamiliar at times. Paulette is surprising (in places) and uncomfortable, and often unpleasant, and I think it says the world is like that, too.
Anyway, I just thought it was odd that I came across two such similar movies on such similar topics, both made within the last five years, almost certainly without either set of film-makers knowing anything about the other one. And, of course, it’s also odd because of what certainly appears to be the impending legalisation of the marijuana-laced pastries in question.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,