No car chases, people flying through the air in martial arts poses, quick edit cuts. Lots of close ups of faces of men and women struggling to break through their shells and take wing as the selves they believe themselves to be or wish themselves to become.
Both movies have subtitles. I read them but I pay attention in a more interactive way. I’m analyzing body language as well as auditory speech. I scan the frame for clues: a mannerism, a small gesture, a facial expression, or the behavior of the one or two other people in the scene.
The film “Shall We Dance?” plays upon cultural clichés of class-conscious Japanese society. A married Tokyo office worker summons up the courage to take dancing lessons, a pastime that would cause him to lose face if it were discovered. He’s smitten by an instructor whose grace stuns him and nearly causes him to give up his ungainly efforts to learn something that brings him joy. Shohei, in a stable relationship, is looking for fulfillment more than romance. Courage is required. Back stories abound as he and his two dance classmates overcome their own obstacles.
The French countryside and its rural inhabitants are a gold mine for French film makers who produce films like “The Grocer’s Son.” When his father is hospitalized, Antoine is forced to return to his rural home town to run his father’s grocery business that includes driving a van to elderly clients outside his mountain village. Antoine is a rude young man not because it's his nature but because he doesn’t know any better - and it doesnt go over well with his father's customers. What happens when he invites a woman who lives in his city apartment building to join him as he runs the business is delightfully Gallic. France may have the best reservoir of character actors on the planet and a few of them populate this film.
The most engaging thing about these two films is how naturally they unfold frame by frame. It feels like the script was written in longhand, not on a laptop. Underneath its character’s rough edges is humanity at its most complex, conflicted and recognizable. I can see myself reflected in the longings, the aspirations, and the trepidations of the characters.
I can forgive that both films have a tied-up-in-a-bow feel to them because the bow is not completely fastened. There’s a refreshing sense of ambiguity in the main character’s future. A transformation has taken place that holds just enough uncertainty to avoid a happily-ever-after feel to each film.
Try one of these films next time you’re in the mood for a low-key movie treat.