Saturday Snapshot: A Paris State of Mind

I have finally starting reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo…and it’s putting me in a Paris mood!

The Seine

Liberte Egalite Fraternite

Paris Boulevard

Happy weekend!

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When The Beating of Your Heart Echoes the Beating of the Drums…

les-miserables-jean-valjean-movie-posterYou may recall that I wrote a Very Long Review of my theatre experience with Les Miserables.  So perhaps you’ve been expecting a review of the movie, which just opened on Christmas.  I went to see it this weekend, thoroughly enjoyed it, and yet also have…complicated feelings.  Hopefully a review will help me unpack this.  So here we go–and there will be spoilers, because you can’t talk about anything important in Les Mis without spoilers.

Very brief and abbreviated plotline, in case you need some context as we go forward: Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is an ex-convict, arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, who attempts to remake his life–which involves running out on his parole.  He’s perpetually hunted by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who believes that criminals never change and it’s his duty to bring Valjean to justice.  Valjean’s path crosses with Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who is driven to prostitution to provide for her daughter, Cosette, who’s being raised by the truly horrible yet comical innkeepers, the Thenardiers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen).  Valjean ends up taking care of Cosette.  When she grows up, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) falls in love with Marius (Eddie Remayne), a revolutionary whose friends are at the heart of an uprising in Paris.  My favorite characters are on their own sideplots: Eponine (Samantha Barks), the Thenardiers’ daughter, who also falls in love with Marius; and Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone), a street urchin in the middle of the revolution.

So that was the brief overview.  It’s a long movie!  But so much happens and it’s all carried along with such wonderful songs that it really didn’t feel very long.  Hobbit is only about ten minutes longer, but felt much longer.

A few general comments before I get into the depths of the characters–this is an intense movie, and they did not skimp when it came to intense make-up.  And by that, I mean that they must have gone through barrels of dirt.  There is a long series of poverty-stricken, devastated or ill people, and they brought it all intensely to life with make-up and costumes.  Almost every actor looks horrible at some point–and that’s exactly how it should be.

And the soundtrack–the songs are amazing.  Period.  I could tell you about how wonderful each one is as we go along, but let’s just assume they’re all amazing and leave it at that.

Now, let’s dig into the characters.  There are some very surprising names in the cast here, but I thought the actors all did wonderful jobs.  Hugh Jackman carries the biggest burden of this movie, and he absolutely lived up to it.  The singing was excellent, there are intense moments, and he played a deep, conflicted Valjean. Continue reading “When The Beating of Your Heart Echoes the Beating of the Drums…”

Saturday Snapshot: Notre Dame Cathedral

During the week, I reviewed Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame–a wonderful and surprisingly complex Disney cartoon.  Naturally, for Saturday Snapshot, I thought I’d share some pictures from my visit to the cathedral last September!

Notre Dame (1)

I went in the morning, on the theory that it would be less crowded.  Contrary to what this picture suggests, this actually worked–it was even busier by the time I left.

Notre Dame 1The lighting is very bad for photos inside the cathedral, so apologies for the fuzziness–but I managed to get a shot of this lovely statue of Mary and Jesus.  And after I got home and rewatched Hunchback, I realized this is the statue Esmeralda addresses her beautiful song to, “God Help the Outcasts.”

Notre Dame (2)After seeing the inside of the cathedral, I went around the corner and got in a long line to go up in Quasi’s towers–and up many, many narrow winding steps.  Google brings back differing numbers on how many steps it is, but the majority opinion seems to be 387.  I believe it!  If you watch Hunchback, look for a scene of Quasi and Phoebus on steps that look a lot like these.

Notre Dame (3)It’s worth all the steps for the views from the top!  And definitely worth it for the gargoyles.  After all, I had to go up and see Quasi’s gargoyles. 🙂

Notre Dame (4)After I came down from the towers, I went in search of another literary/movie reference–also by Victor Hugo.  Apologies, as it’s somewhat grim…but I remembered that in the 1998 film of Les Miserables, when Javert went into the Seine there was a beautiful view of Notre Dame behind him.  So I went down to the walkway beside the Seine, and I’m pretty sure this is the spot…

Not to mention, from down there you can’t see all the crowds!

All in all, Notre Dame was wonderful to visit–a beautiful place, and then there’s all the literary references too.

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Climbing Notre Dame with Quasimodo

HunchbackOne of my top places to see in Paris last September was Notre Dame Cathedral–for the architecture and because I like big old churches and because it’s an icon.  But also very much because of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  I’ve never actually read Victor Hugo’s novel (though I have put it on my list since visiting the cathedral) so when I say that Hunchback influenced my Parisian sight-seeing…I mostly mean the Disney movie.

I can’t remember being particularly attached to this one as a kid, but in recent years it’s been emerging as one of my favorite Disney cartoons.  That makes sense, because this is not at all a typical Disney cartoon, and has a much more adult feel.  I love typical Disney and I don’t mean to criticize it in the review that follows, but I do feel this one is on a different level.

I’d really like to know how the first person looked at the book and said, hey, let’s make a cartoon!  Instead of a star-crossed princess and her prince, we have Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer of Notre Dame.  His only friends are three gargoyles (two of whom are named Victor and Hugo–love that) and though he dreams of entering the world he’s watched, this has always been forbidden by his master, the stern magistrate Frollo.  Quasi finds a little daring, the beautiful and bewitching gypsy Esmeralda comes on the scene, and everything changes.

I love Quasi and his growth as a character, as he overcomes his fears and realizes his own value.  Sure, it’s not quite the complexity of Susan Kay’s Phantom, but there’s still a depth here that goes beyond perfect-princess-meets-perfect-prince.  Likewise Esmeralda is a strong, intelligent character, very aware of larger societal issues of class and prejudice.  I even like the prince figure, the handsome Phoebus, who I find more likable than, say, Raoul from Phantom.  Phoebus has his own depth, as a soldier who struggles with a new position and orders he doesn’t like–and he has a sense of humor.  Disney heroes who have funny scenes with horses to seem to work well with me…  And how do you go wrong when he says to his horse, “Achilles–heel.”

Frollo is also a villain with fascinating depth, and he’s a very mature villain for a Disney movie.  His interest in Esmeralda is on a totally different level than Jafar’s decision to marry Jasmine in Aladdin.  I really don’t know how the scene “Hellfire” got into a Disney cartoon.  Frollo is singing about lust and temptation and damnation, while there are flames and demons and hooded figures chanting “mea culpa.”  It’s fantastic and wonderful, but–in a Disney movie?  Really?

I love the songs, especially “Out There” which is one of my favorite songs ever.  It’s just so beautiful and heartfelt, and is one of the main reasons I felt I had to spend time in Paris “strolling by the Seine.”  The only time I got out my iPod while walking around was to listen to “Out There,” sitting on a wall next to the Seine.  I also love “God Help the Outcasts”–again, there’s a depth to it, and to Esmeralda’s character.  From the opening lines, “I don’t know if you can hear me, or if you’re even there–or if you would listen to a gypsy’s prayer,” she’s having a complex religious experience.  It’s deep, it’s emotional, leading up to the end, “please help my people, the poor and downtrod–I thought we all were children of God.”

My only significant reservation on the movie is the last two minutes.  After such a beautifully nuanced movie, it tied up with more of a simple Disney happy ending.  Quasi gives his blessing to Esmeralda and Phoebus, and then is embraced by the crowd.  And…I don’t buy either idea.  He may accept how Esmeralda feels about Phoebus, but I’d find it much more believable if he was less pleased about it.  A little wistfulness, maybe?  And after all the times that crowd has made an about-face, I wouldn’t trust it to stay welcoming for the span of five minutes.

I’m not sure what ending I want.  I don’t want Quasi to die, or even to retreat back into his belltowers (because then what was the point of the character growth?)  But after all the rest of the movie, I feel like they could have managed a more subtle, less conventional ending.  Maybe he retreats to the towers but it’s implied he’ll come out again in the future?  A little wistfulness on the romance question but also make it clear that Esmeralda and Phoebus will be his friends into the future, opening up the possibility that he could venture out farther someday?  There had to be some kind of bittersweet or lightly hopeful ending they could have managed.

I still love the movie–and I loved watching it shortly after visiting Notre Dame.  Someone animating this really knew what Notre Dame looked like, and when I watched it again I kept reacting to things I recognized.  If you go to Notre Dame, you can easily go into the church, which is very beautiful.  I recommend also going around the corner to the left and getting in line to visit the belltowers.  There are a lot of stairs (a LOT of stairs), but it’s worth it to see the gargoyles and the view.  You don’t really get to see Quasi’s bells (just one) or the space where he lives in the cartoon, but it’s still neat–and you can see the whole of Paris below.

I’m planning a Notre Dame Saturday Snapshot for this weekend, so come by for more pictures then!

Saturday Snapshot: The Louvre

I still have lots of travel photos I haven’t shared yet.  Thought I’d get away from the fall colors this week and share some trip photos instead…and for some reason I’m in the mood for artwork.  Let’s tour the Louvre.

The Louvre is known for having a few very famous pieces of art.  Of the famous ones, Winged Victory was my favorite.  I took a lot of shots, but I like this one best–looking as though she’s about to take flight.

Pardon the slight fuzziness of the Venus de Milo–only shot I could get without hordes of people in the frame!

The Louvre is a complete labyrinth (I got SO lost) but they do have helpful signs pointing you to the main attractions.  I guess they know what people are looking for!

And sure enough…here’s where everyone is!  That’s the Mona Lisa way off across the crowd.  To be honest, as a painting it’s never really spoken to me.  But I was very entertained by the masses clustered around.  I wish I could have captured the forest of arms holding up camera phones–it looked like a rock concert!

I hope you enjoyed the Louvre.  🙂  Visit At Home with Books for more Saturday Snapshots.