Derek Cianfrance recalls Eschilo’s idea of fate, painting a tableau full of gloomy tones, crowded with tragic characters that emerge, as Coppola’s Colonel Kurtz did, from humanity’s darkness; the structure of a layered American society and its province (recalling Hopper) is the scenery for two destinies that meet by chance and remain scarred forever.
Both corrupt and lost, one by need and a deadly fate, the other by his nature and temperament. Luke “the handsome” (Ryan Gosling) has his essence tattooed on the knuckles, where the letters composing the word “handsome” stand up, in the same way as “love” and “hate” showed up on the fingers of the clergyman Harry Powell by Laughton; Luke is a free spirit, a stuntman moving with his motorbike from town to town, a movie icon-archetype, from Driver by Hill to Motorcycle boy by Francis Ford Coppola.
His way of entering into the scene is solemn, described with an aesthetic taste recalling the Eighties; the camera follows him closely with an intense long take, while he walks firmly, wearing a Metallica t-shirt, and when the show suddenly begins, in the thunderous rumble of the engines, the atmosphere stops, time and space freeze, as well as the audience attention. His difficult romance with Romina (Eva Mendes) is further complicated, but at the same time overheated, by the discovery of her pregnancy; Luke feels viscerally his fatherhood, to the point that he totally sacrifices himself to provide for his son. It’s exactly this unstoppable love for his son to bring to light his dark and corrupt side.
His fate is already sealed, we can read it on his skin, on the runes tattooed in every part of his body and the inseparable motorbike. Then, there is Avery (Bradley Cooper), a cop whose uncontrolled ambition brings to the light his true Self; in a symmetrical, but opposite way to Luke, he is ready to sacrifice anything, his wife, son, colleagues and friends for the lust for power and success. The meeting with Luke is the turning point of his life: first he becomes a hero, honored by media, then he turns to be a political “animal”, just interested in flattering his electors. The scorn of the director for Avery seems to be emphasised by the persistent presence of a fly on his face in a critical scene of the movie; what should be the perfect model of a society is instead the metaphor of the society itself, whose intimate nature refers to excrement.
The story develops along the years and the generations and, fifteen years later, reaches the sons of the two main characters, reflections of their fathers. Their fate is to follow a path already marked and to replicate their fathers’ behaviours, wins and losses included, without any happy ending, but with the sober awareness of a relentless and inescapable fate. Al and Jason are heirs of a savage humanity, which quickly swallows the neighbor without any consideration for the consequences; they are imperfect men, maybe truer for this only reason.
Atena, in Eschilo’s trilogy, reminded that is up to the Erinys to “handle anything among men”, to give “some men the poems and others the tears”; so, some men deserve delights and glory, others deserve tears and sorrow: there is no deliverance, no possibility to change his own fate.
The Place Beyond the Pines had been planned before shooting Blue Valentine; the work on it was complicated, up to 37 rewritings in five years before finding a producer. With an irregular narrative structure, the movie is based on three diegetic lines, so independent that they seem almost three separate works; eventually they join with an appropriate ending in the last act, maybe the most difficult. The director doesn’t linger on the melodrama, doesn’t call the audience for a simplistic and tearful preachy: his intention is clear in his attention for the elaborate and never trivial characters, and in the opposition between Luke and Avary, that is at the same time ethic and aesthetic.
Cianfrance, at his third movie, directed a suffering work that carries the audience in a striking place, on the border between epic and realism, “a place beyond the pines”, as the old Iroquois proverb claims. The movie is full of quotations, but keeps its own authenticity. The author learned from the teachings of Stan Brakhage and Phil Solomon: it is clear by the use of an overfilled and full color. But the director keeps his personal style and tries to experiment the aesthetic language.
A special mention for the beautiful and moving soundtrack by Mike Patton, a gifted and versatile artist, a musician always obsessed by the search for new sounds and alternative musical languages. The former front leader of Faith No More, he deliberately left the mainstream rock scene to dedicate himself tirelessly to an infinite number of incredibly different projects and artistic collaborations: from the experiments with John Zorn to the LPs with Tomahawk and Fantomas, even sinking into the Italian pop music of the Sixties, together with Roy Paci, Vincenzo Vasi and the Toscanini philharmonic orchestra, in the memorable tour “Mondo cane”.
Written by Mariangela Sansone
Translation from italian by Fabio Tasso
Reference section: English/Français