Life During Wartime
August 10, 2010
Coming from just about anyone else the idea of a sequel more than ten years on with not one single member of the original cast would probably seem absurd. But, with Solondz, it is merely par for the course. And so we have Life During Wartime (2009), a follow-up feature about the altered lives of the veritable smorgasbord of freaks and pervs that constitute characters from his earlier cult-hit black comedy Happiness (1998).
One of the more coveted films for me in this year’s festival line-up, Life During Wartime has been a long time coming and, moreover, after the disappointment that went with both Storytelling (2001) and Palindromes (2004), was hopefully going to be something of a saving grace for Solondz in his otherwise enjoyably nihilistic, yet increasingly overlooked, oeuvre. Despite a large proportion of the popular response post-screening being negative (many disappointed when the same dizzying heights of Happiness didn’t ensue), Life During Wartime is actually a very good sequel and still indulgently dark humoured fare.
Told from the outset that “sometimes it’s better not to understand” one could be forgiven for thinking that Solondz was excusing his last feature release, Palindromes, a film which many found confusing and irreverent.
The stark, biting dialogue that Solondz is known for is ever-present as he showcases the hysteria of traditional “family values” and an innate human inability to communicate and connect on any truly meaningful or remotely honest level. The use of colour (and the mise-en-scene more generally) is bold and telling; each shot perfectly framed, each character’s flaws further explicated through their harsh surroundings. The stereotypes are well overdrawn and the replacement cast perform brilliantly, Ally Sheedy deserving a special mention for absolutely nailing Lara Flynn Boyle’s already fantastic version of Joy Jordan.
Thematically contemplative about the ability of individuals to “forgive and forget”, the film thinks through the characters lives as comparable to enduring wartime: the constant ethical questioning of moral judgements. There is a strong suggestion from the film that we ought to “just keep pretending” as ultimately “nothing works, it just goes on forever.” And if to “forgive and forget” is like to “freedom and democracy” then indeed it is a justified suggestion of Solondz’ that we do, and ought to continue, to pretend. Intelligent, thoughtful, dark and depressing, Life During Wartime isn’t Happiness but it is a damn good film.