Thursday, 5 April 2012

Ask the Dust

Of all the films experienced during the past ten days the most recent, Ask the Dust, proved the most enjoyable. Those who know me or at least my writings will say of course a film about a writer struggling to write his first successful novel is bound to appeal. In fact when I watched part of the film sometime before I switched off because of a lack of sympathy towards the writer played by the excellent Colin Farrell who plays Arturo Bandini. The film proved that much enjoyable because this time I was interested enough to concentrate and see it through to completion.

The story is set during the American Depression in the 1930’s in Los Angeles where Arturo rents a Bunker Hill room in a house which has window access to the front space and roadway so he can avoid the landlady played by Eileen Atkins. He spends his last coin on a cup of coffee where he is attracted to the waitress played by the gorgeous Sabna Hayek who has a resemblance to Penelope Cruz. She is a passionate fiery Mexican who locks horns with both finding fault despite the evident attraction. When the ice is broken he then cannot cope with the knowledge that she has an unspecified relationship with the coffee shop counterman who leaves to go to live in the desert to recover from TB and write his own great novel.

Meanwhile Arturo he becomes solvent with the publication of a short piece about his failure to write the great novel and starving for his art. He then finds himself the interest of an older woman who has become besotted after overhearing him talk about his writing. She was rejected by her husband after becoming disfigured in her lower body which she reveals to him and they develop a relationship because of mutual interests in novels and the arts. She works as a housekeeper and eventually they become lovers only for her to be one of the hundred victims of the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake. He survived through going out for an early walk on the promenade.

He writes a short story about her life and death where the editor of the magazine suggests that he expands into a novel. The editor has previously given him good advice about the balance which the writer has to strike between the process of the writing which detaches from experiencing life and being unable to write convincingly from the lack of life experiencing.

It is at this point Camilla re-enters his life and they become lovers after taking her to live in an idyllic a beach house existence with the advance while he completes his work. They row over getting married and she walks out going to live with the counter manager in the desert. He contacts Arturo when the girl becomes seriously ill with what appears to be TB but despite getting her medical help she does not survive. He leaves a dedicated copy of the successfully published novel in the desert,

During his stay at the lodging house he is befriended by Donald Sutherland another house member who shares what becomes left of his incomes which mainly goes on drink.

The original novel written by John Fante and published in 1939 was part of a quartet of autobiographical works spread between the 1930is and 1985 although that in 1985 was the first written. The novel concentrates more on the poverty of the time and on his Catholic guilt while the film is more about racism his experience as an Italian American as a child and that of her as the then new immigrants from Mexico in the 1930’s. She is emotionally and psychologically unstable something barely hinted at in the film. She comes to his room having escaped from a mental hospital which is why he takes her to the breach house as an escape. She disappears when he returns to collect his belonging from Bunker Hill having decided to remain at the Beach House. He tracks her down to having lived with the counter man in the desert but he has thrown her out and Arturo cannot find her which is why he throws the novel dedicated to her into the desert dust. The book is regarded as an important work from this period and became a best seller for the second time in 1980’s when his final works was created followed by the publication of the first part. It is not a great film or likely to be memorable but a worthwhile experience.

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