On the bright side...

After a frantic two days involving about two hundred and eighty seven reboots, it appears that I'll be able to salvage the data from my desktop hard drive. I couldn't be more relieved. Just picture me with tears in my eyes, pounding my fist on my computer's chest, screaming, "Stay with me! Stay with me, damn it!" for hours on end. That's what it's been like. The alternative would have been to consider how much the difference between my last data backup and the current data on my hard drive was worth to me. I was quoted $1,300 for data recovery off my 250 GB hard drive. Brutal. Just another reminder to go give your data backup a hug today. And if you don't have your data backed up, then you're a scarecrow juggling torches.
So I won't have pictures from the trip for a while. Trying to edit photos in Photoshop on this seven year old laptop is like trying to pick an elephant's nose with a human finger. But for basic online tasks, this old clunker is still sufficient, if a mite sluggish.
For the most part, returning after home after a vacation is a depressing, stress-elevating affair. But this transition hasn't been quite as painful as usual (computer difficulties aside). For one thing, New York is the most European of American cities. I don't need a car here and can get most anywhere within the city and within the region through public transportation. It's a city built for walking, and though it doesn't sport as grand a set of monuments to its age as its European predecessors (cathedrals and ruins), it binds together the past, present, and future like no other American city. You can feel the city's age in its oldest buildings and residents (and its old money), all of which coexist with the most modern of skyscrapers and young and ambitious transplants.
A return to NY from E. Europe is also a massive step up in diversity and quality of cuisine and produce. Strolling into Whole Foods yesterday and finding myself before row upon row of immaculate fruits and vegetables, I fell to my knees in reverence like Tom Cruise at the Louvre at the end of The Da Vinci Code. This was the Holy Grail, the royal bloodline of organic aubergines and kale, and it had been hiding in plain view all this time. So organic food may not be the environmental panacea it's often thought to be. As Cypher said in The Matrix, "Ignorance is bliss." I was thinking exactly that as I gorged on fresh papaya yesterday, half of it spilling down my shirt.
[One other checkmark in favor of Whole Foods: the express lanes are designated by signs reading "10 items or fewer" instead of "10 items or less," the ungrammatical yet far more popular expression in grocery stores. I never noticed this until yesterday.]
It's all relative, of course. Just a year ago, after a few weeks in China, I found myself lamenting the high prices and limited selection of fruit here in the States. Actually, I feel that way everytime I return from Chinatown. You can buy excellent produce in Chinatown for about a third of the price of the same stuff at Whole Foods, saving more than enough to cover the cab ride back.
While waiting for a few Geniuses at the Apple Store to operate on my computer yesterday, I walked over to the Film Forum to try to catch the 6:45pm showing of Army of Shadows, the Jean-Pierre Melville movie that had finally found limited distribution in the United States some 37 years after its release. I heard of the movie's U.S. release while in Europe, and though I'd still rather be traveling through Europe right now, one of the secret pleasures in returning home now was being able to catch the movie in its limited run.
I'd have to wait a bit longer, though. A sign posted out front of the theater announced that the 6:45pm show had sold out. I was disappointed but also pleasantly surprised at the good taste of my fellow New Yorkers. Being one of that legion of cineastes who harbors a man-sized crush on Melville's movies, I'd welcome a wider embrace of his movies. Perhaps then we'd see more of them available on DVD or in re-release.
I ended up purchasing a ticket for the 9:30pm showing, and even arriving 15 minutes early for a holiday weekend of showing of this arthouse film left me standing in a long line outside the theater and then scrambling for a seat inside the theater.
Le Samourai is one of my favorite movies. Melville's lean and understated style feels like filmmaking of the purest form. His movies have the body fat of a world-class cyclist and are filled with taciturn characters who wear their existentialism like trenchcoats, with that inimitable Gallic cool.
Army of Shadows lives up to expectations, which sounds like faint praise until you consider that that its Metacritic score is a near-perfect 99. And though it is about the French resistance during WWII, the themes of personal sacrifice and courage felt appropriate to Memorial Day weekend. Coming off my travels through Eastern Europe, where every city I visited had monuments of remembrance to the Holocaust and to those who fought the Nazis, I was primed for a movie focused on the toll the Resistance took on those who joined it.
If there ever was a Hemingway of cinema, someone able to evoke Papa's muscular prose in celluloid, Melville is that director. I re-read three of Hemingway's novels while in Europe, and everytime I do I see narrative flab everywhere, but there was no such concern with Melville.
Few directors could have been better suited to the topic. Melville specializes in his clear-eyed presentation of existential men and women who know they are probably doomed by their choices but accept their fates with a wordless and almost majestic stoicism. This is actually one of Melville's more verbose movies, as several characters speak their internal thoughts over the action, and yet even their inner voices seem tight-lipped. No one will confuse Melville with Linklater.
Melville allows the story to be told through the actions and faces of his characters, and what a fantastic set of faces this movie offers, from Lino Ventura through Simone Signoret. Though he himself was part of the Resistance, Melville is never grandiose or hysterical in his presentation, and so you find that it's your heart that reaches out towards the screen. Recall Steven Spielberg's Munich, an often thrilling movie, yet one which careened off the rails with an awkward, maudlin montage splicing together shots of Eric Bana making love to his wife with flashbacks to the Munich assassinations. It's the type of overstep you never worry about with Melville.
Melville also sprinkles Army of Shadows with welcome doses of humor. In one scene, Ventura and fellow Resistance member Paul Meurisse go to the cinema to see Gone With the Wind. Exiting the theater, Ventura remarks, "The war will be over for the French when they can see this great movie."
Your cinematic drought of 2006 will be over when you can see this great movie. The limited theatrical release schedule is listed here, and I expect to see Criterion issue a DVD sometime in the near future.