Last week I finally stepped foot inside a cinema for the first time since March. To say I was excited would be putting it mildly. It didn’t go off as I expected, in fact if I had had the same experience before lockdown I would have said it was an unmitigated disaster but that was almost 5 months ago. Not only was I a different person but cinema was something i assumed would always be there, a luxury that was easily accessible and most of all, risk free. It doesn’t seem like it but turns out, five months is a long time.
Five Months Ago
If you’ve been reading my reviews from before we were forced into quarantine you will know that the last film I watched in the cinemas was the acceptable but forgettable Military Wives (My review of which you will find here). While it wasn’t the usual cinema experience with all that was going on outside the darkness of Screen 6 of my local Cineworld, it was impossible to not feel a sense of trepidation sitting in a packed room surrounding by others. While I was disappointed with the forced closure I understood and to some extent welcomed the fact the choice had been taken from me.
Overnight my options were based more on what I had access to or what I could afford. For most of April I only watched a handful of films, not because I didn’t have choices. It had more to do with the fact that the experience was different. Sitting in the living room or watching a movie before bed became the new normal and while there isn’t anything wrong with that, it took some adjusting to. Since then I have seen more new films at home than I have in the cinema this year and I’m glad because I wouldn’t have seen some of the great Netflix documentaries on offer (Athlete A & Spelling The Dream), Amazon Prime’s stellar run of indie cinema (Blow The Man Down & Selah And The Spades) or some DVDs I never would have bought (The Public & System Crasher) without being pushed. Lockdown changed my viewing habits in a positive way but it was impossible not to notice a distinct difference.
All that time, the feeling was different. While there is an added level of comfort from watching in your own home, immersing yourself in a film is decidedly harder when it is so easy to pick up the remote, pause the action and go make yourself a cup of tea. Even if you turned the lights off, got your favourite snacks and settled in for 90-120 minutes, the connection was different. Not unpleasantly so, but noticeably. Films like Amazon’s The Vast of Night, despite enjoying acclaim upon its release on Prime is a film made for the big screen, a movie screaming out for the kind of immersion that allows your imagination to run wild, the kind that only a limited run would have allowed it.
Despite changing habits and pandemic induced worries, watching films at home has shown me how vital the trip to the cinema is for the overall experience, let alone the therapeutic value of getting out of the house. When July 31st finally came around and my local cinema finally reopened I couldn’t be happier. Two hours later I felt something different entirely.
The First Of Many
Seeming like an important choice, I thought hard about which film would be right for my return to the cinema. I was still nervous about the whole thing in general, a low level, warranted paranoia that mixed in with the excitement. It took me a few hours to finally decide upon Proxima, the new Eva Green drama about an astronaut struggling with separation anxiety when she has to leave her young daughter prior to training for a big launch. I wanted the film to be entirely new instead of something I had seen before and I also wanted to go in cold. While I had seen trailers for Misbehavior and Unhinged, Proxima had remained unspoiled. It seemed to me, the ideal choice.
I was greeted at the door and told about the new system in place, everyone was wearing masks and the floors had arrows to show the new one way system. The niggling doubts about returning so soon were quickly dispelled, instead replaced by the buzz of anticipation. I sat down in a side seat right at the front, a seat I chose too quickly to understand that for the next two hours I would be craning my neck in an almost unnatural position. I didn’t care. This was MY seat. Two other people went to theirs as I waited. Their choices were smarter. I wasn’t bitter.
Despite a new advert about being responsible during this next stage of the Pandemic, all the adverts were the usual mixture of local business and car adverts. It was business as usual. The trailers were all ones that had been showing back in March, with the obligatory Tenet teaser for its imminent release. I don’t even remember the title card appearing and suddenly I was in. As the expected studio information flashed across the screen, two voices started speaking. Both were speaking French. I looked for the subtitles and found nothing. I instantly assumed that it must not be important dialogue. I was wrong.
Five minutes in and not a single subtitle had emerged and despite doing at least 5 years of French, I am by no lengths fluent. Despite understanding enough to know what was going on, I was clearly missing many of the spoken nuances. The moments when characters transitioned to Russian or German, which they did occasionally, lost me entirely. About 20 minutes in, a woman sat about halfway up in the quiet showing stood up and left, never to return. I thought to myself, maybe I should do the same. I knew what was happening but I wasn’t watching the film director Anna Winocour intended me to see. Instead I decided to stay.
Because of the language barrier I began to focus on the visuals, facial expressions, and the quietness of Winocour’s film. By the end the Proxima I watched was different from the actual film but by no means was it a horrible experience. A failed excursion to the cinema had become a lesson in different ways to view something. Proxima may be about the emotional devastation of being separated from your child. The film I watched was about failed communication and trying to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. It may be about those things, it may not. I don’t think it really matters.
When the credits began to crawl across the screen I sat there for a second contemplating what I could possibly say about a film I hadn’t completely seen. While I will eventually see the real Proxima in the weeks to come, I cannot possibly complain with what I got as ultimately, I got something special to me, an entirely unique experience and somewhere down the line I have another new film to watch when I see the movie properly, subtitles hopefully included. However, writing a review for something only I have seen seems pointless. I wanted to put into words what it was like and why I thought it ended up being the perfect trip back, warts and all but a conventional review was clearly not the way to go.
The New Novelty
Just before I left, the only other person in the cinema walked past me, clearly upset with the experience, understandably so, but it showed me that I wasn’t. Not even close. I’m not sure if it was because I was happy to be back, the novelty of an experience I had taken for granted, or if it was the different quality of what I had just seen. It could have easily been somewhere in the middle, a little bit of both.
People I talked to about the experience either thought I should have complained or that ‘films should be understandable without dialogue anyway’, as one said. I think most of all, I’m grateful for a new way of looking at cinema. Not only is going to watch a film new again but even a bad trip that most would have hated can be a positive one to others. It only continues to highlight the importance of criticism and conversation, an ironic statement considering this all came about from a trip severely lacking in dialogue.