Dreams of a Life, Weekend

My last cinema visit of 2011 and first of 2012 were to see two films which are completely different in theory but which each left me with a similar set of feelings. If you haven’t seen either or both of them I won’t spoil them here (not that either film is the kind you can spoil, really), but I suggest that you stop reading NOW and go to the cinema to watch one or ideally both of them.

Dreams of a Life is the true (or “true”; the impossibility of arriving at an independent truth about another person being one of its central themes) story of Joyce Vincent, a young Londoner who died alone in her flat in Wood Green in 2003 and wasn’t discovered for three years. If that sounds harrowing, it is, but it’s also fascinating, and touching, and thoughtful, and ultimately life-affirming, if that isn’t too much of a contradiction in terms. What happened to Joyce was shocking, of course, but the film is as much about her life and love and friendships as about her death, and I came away with what felt like an intimate and tender portrait of someone quite a lot like you or me. It’s not like any other film I can think of, and I think it will stay with me for a long time.

Weekend is a love story – a romance in every sense, although again, it felt very close to home. Watching it, I thought – I know these people; I’ve been to these places. There is, I think, something very English about both films, which is part of what makes them feel so familiar. But you don’t have to be English, or live here, to recognise something fundamental in each of them, because they are about real people with real uncertainties and doubts and secrets, and both make the point that you can never really know another person’s secret. And they treat that truth with an honesty that makes both films seem very grown-up, in the best sense of the term. They are both made by people I’d like to know in real life, which is praise I’ve never used about a film before, not counting Woody Allen films (and people get cross when I say I’d like to know Woody Allen in real life, so I tend not to say it any more, even though it’s true).

There are no neatly wrapped-up endings to either film and both contain a lot of sadness, but I came away from them both feeling uplifted, perhaps because both stories are also about happiness, albeit transitory happiness (which is the only real kind, because if you were happy all the time you wouldn’t know you were happy, so it wouldn’t count).

Weekend has left most cinemas now, but you can probably still catch Dreams of a Life if you hurry. But they are also both the sort of film which would work just as well on TV, so one way or another, I hope you will get to see them.

Next up on my to-watch list: The Artist, about which I am ridiculously excited.