Pigeons Home to Roost | The Nation


Pigeons Home to Roost

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While Erin is on her way to the rousing conclusion, in which she and many honest citizens collect millions through the courts, she further demonstrates her feistiness through jokey bickering with her boss, played by Finney as a pudgy, gravy-spotted fellow who tends to trip over the file boxes littering his office, so that he spills the take-out coffee that's forever in his mitt. Erin also enters into an affair with her next-door neighbor, George (Aaron Eckhart), who proves to be the nurturing type, despite his bandanna headcloth, Harley-Davidson and broad expanse of chest hair.

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Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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It is only one of the film's reversals of expectation when manly George volunteers to care for the kids so that Erin may pursue a profession. A more subtle reversal: Although Erin uses her body as if she'd seen Pretty Woman and meant to emulate its heroine, she doesn't spend much of her time in bed. When she needs to get access to a trove of documents, she distracts their guardian by leaning forward and squeezing her elbows to her sides, making her breasts the most animated to be seen since Jessica Rabbit's; when her boss issues one of his gruff reprimands, her reflex is to taunt him sexually; but when she comes home at midnight for the 128th day in a row, she discovers that George has packed his bag, having gone untouched for too many months.

A further reversal: Even though Erin begins the picture by talking about her children, even though she's shown making sacrifices for them (including going hungry), she is capable of neglecting the kids, once she's found paying work and an outlet for a formidable mental energy. Sure, she's warm and caring; that's why the residents of Hinkley trust her. But for all that, the film, with a knowing grin, lets us identify her main sources of pleasure: intellectual stimulation and a whole lot of money.

Though it's overly fond of connecting dots, Susannah Grant's screenplay provides an efficient enough plan of action for the movie. The responsibility for realizing that plan, and for putting life on the screen, falls to Roberts, of course, and to the director, Steven Soderbergh. He's always found exhilaration in scenes where women assert themselves--think of Andie McDowell grabbing the camera in sex, lies & videotape, or of Jennifer Lopez kneecapping a bad guy in Out of Sight--and so he seems utterly assured in directing Roberts through her star turn. He's also developed a masterly repertoire of editing tricks, which speed the action through those connected dots. The image of the present scene overlaps with sound from the next, to help you bound over the transition; a scene of courtroom testimony breaks apart into multiple viewpoints, varied and rapid; several days of job hunting turn into a montage of Los Angeles locations. In his sleights of hand, Soderbergh is so deft that he even makes it look as if he'd truly risked Julia Roberts in a staged car wreck.

She's far too valuable to endanger, of course. And I don't for a moment imagine she might suffer for her present stand in endorsing a citizen's right to sue. But let's be as hardheaded as Erin Brockovich herself, or the film that bears her name. This is how some women get things done in America: through the use of whatever they've got. If neither the star nor the character wins a halo at the end, that's just fine, because they didn't ask for one. Money will do--money, and a little justice.

* * *

If you've been hoping to see a mad compendium of disaster photos, pigeon races, baton-twirling and competitive door-opening, shot in black and white, and starring Belgium's most vituperative actor, have I got the picture for you. It's Benoît Mariage's The Carriers Are Waiting, now making its way around the US art-house circuit.

The splendidly explosive Benoît Poelvoorde plays Roger, paterfamilias and police-beat photographer for the inappropriately named newspaper L'Espoir. Confined to a damp-looking brick rowhouse in a terminally decrepit industrial town, Roger has pinned his own hopes on his children, from whom he is demanding a proof of love as the film begins. He asks them for one thing, just one thing: a new car. And they can win one for him! Just enter the Guinness Book of World Records contest. Surely there's some record they can break. Here--the record for opening a door! Just open a door and step through 41,828 times within twenty-four hours, and the car will belong to Roger!

Having set forth this unhinged premise, The Carriers Are Waiting proceeds to follow the training of Roger's teenage son, Michel (Jean-François Devigne), who is coached for the competition using certifiably American methods. These involve practicing in the rubble-strewn backyard, giving rise to an image of certifiably Belgian Surrealism: a repeated passage through a freestanding doorframe, which is connected to nothing and leads nowhere. Meanwhile, little sister Luise (Morgane Simon) is drawn toward a similarly obsessed character: next-door-neighbor Felix (Philippe Grand'Henry), a guy who looks like Jimmy Stewart's dimwitted younger brother, works in a cork-making factory and devotes his life to his pigeons.

The Carriers Are Waiting eventually turns into a kind of shaggy-papa story, in which the bully of love becomes almost lovable. But fortunately, there's more fang than hair to this movie. While on your way toward the benign ending, expect to feel the nips of a genuinely sharp humor.

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