Two Movies — Two realities

I saw two somewhat unusual movies over the last week: Romantics Anonymous, a French/Belgian flick about.. well… romance in a chocolate factory setting, and Pillars of the Earth, a (long) TV mini series about the building of a cathedral in the middle ages at the time of the Anarchy – based on a Ken Follett novel.

The subject of cathedral building in the middle ages has interested me for a while, so that explains why I picked up the DVD – in spite of generally thinking of Ken Follet as a bit of a hack, and Romantic Anonymous was chosen as part of an ongoing quest to become more familiar with the increasing amount of strong quality French language movies that are being produced today.

Overall both movies were entertaining, but what was remarkable to me is how they both broke the mold for screenwriting in a similar manner.

They both violated the scene setup rules (which is not, I think, a surprise for the TV mini series, but a bit of a surprise for the French flick, which has a normal motion picture running time.)   Moreover, by motion pictures standards they were relatively inexpensive productions, but the sacrifices and trade-offs inherent in not expending $100 million on a production, which does, of course, show in the final product, did not take away from the stories.

The saint and the devil

The Saint and the Devil – © 2012 Copyright Keith Evans and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

More interesting, however, is how the TV miniseries, by virtue of focusing on the construction of the cathedral, is virtually void of good, honest, decent people… All the main characters are severely flawed, ranging from the psychotic killer, who hates for the sake of hating, to the dreaming builder, who is willing to do anything, including dismissing his adopted child, so as to maximize the chance of being able to continue building the cathedral.  So everyone is flawed and mostly as a result of ambition or – oddly – the desire to do good.

In contrast, in Romantics Anonymous there are no bad characters.  In fact, there is no instance of a bad action taken by any character at any time.   No one speaks badly about anyone, nobody schemes, and – generally – everyone is just nice.   Moreover, there is no death and no maiming of animal, for instance, and – believe it or not – no cursing.   When I reflected on this fact I struggled to remember another movie where this was the case (even Local Hero, the de-facto go-to feel-good movie, has scheming and plotting.)

The juxtaposition of these two movies really started me thinking.   Both breaks the mold (as you may know, the rules for acceptable character mix in movies are quite rigid)  and one does so by making everyone flawed, while the other one does so by making everyone more or less flawless.   I suspect that there is a learning lesson here about rule-breaking and succeeding in business.

On a side-note, the constant scheming in the Pillars of the Earth, resonates with a belief that I have that good people, for reasons to do with the perception of anonymity, sometimes — or often, as it may be — do really bad things, and that large enterprises are frequently hampered solely by internal struggles.