Wednesday, March 05, 2014


Once upon a time, in high school, maybe even Jr. High I went to see a French film with my French-speaking sister and classmate friend or two.  We saw THE weirdest movie whose title just now popped into my head-- La Ceremonie.  Mildly amused and highly disturbed we all went away thinking, French movies-- they be whack.  I saw a few more for school but can't remember any of them.  Wait. False.  I remember one. Ponette.  And I cried my eyes out.  I thought, this is far, FAR too emotional for the likes of me. Watching a tiny 4-year-old girl sob daily, mourning the death of her mother? Are you kidding me? UGH. (Go see it, but prepare to be gutted. This little girl's performance is and ever will be unparalleled)  At this point my view of French films was either out of control absurd with unapologetic disturbance or chokingly depressing.

Fast forward to college days and BYU where I began a beautiful relationship with the International Cinema.  First visited for classroom assignments, I soon began attending on the reg, sometimes going with friends but kind of preferred to view films solo.  The first film I saw there was Shall We Dance and I thought, well that was delightful.  I also saw a Chinese film called To Live which, again, is way too sad, leaving you just a mess of a person. I saw Red and loved it.  Then came the wildly popular Amelie whom everyone fell in love with.

During this time, I saw many films. I also took a class called French and Italian Cinema which I enjoyed but had a hard time developing a very critically fair eye because some of the movies I just hated when all I wanted to do was love them. I felt like a better collection could have been chosen, but my teacher was cool regardless.

I can't remember most of the films I saw but over time my feelings toward French films turned and I embraced them, my basis being just the few that I saw of course. Perhaps this is due to my development learning the language which I studied all through college and, at age 20, having visited the land where I came to truly love the people and the culture.  

This brings us to the present, just now in fact. I just finished watching the silliest movie ever. It's called Ricky.  Here's what it's about and my view of it:

French realism which I love. They've taken an absurd idea and put it into real life. Nothing overly fantastical or outlandish. Just one tiny impossible element thrust into a normal situation.  A woman, Katie, with a sweet and bright 7-year-old daughter, Lisa.  They share a sort of government subsidized apartment (I think) and Katie is a factory worker at a chemical plant.  Blah kind of life but she and her daughter have something special and it's sweet.  Katie meets Paco, a fellow factory worker and they "hit it off," shall we say. He moves in and Katie has a baby, Ricky.   Ricky is a normal chubby adorable baby until one day, Katie comes home from work and sees that Ricky has a red bruise on his shoulder blade. She accuses Paco of mistreatment and he leaves, for good it seems, being greatly offended for what he claims is a false accusation. Actually he doesn't claim much, doesn't put up much of a fight. But he leaves.

What happens is, soon after, Ricky develops a second bruise on his other shoulder blade and then he sprouts the most seriously disgusting chicken wing bones. These winglets grow and sprout feathers and soon the little tot is literally flying, flitting all around their apartment.  A literal cherub, but they hardly make any reference to that.

I am going to pause here and let you go view the film for yourself.  It's on Netflix.  Ricky.  Go watch it. Then come back.

The rest of the film goes on slowly and serenely which, again, is a style I have really come to love. It was amusing if a bit bizarre the whole way through and then I got to the end where I had an emotional reaction. Interested to see what others have said, I looked it up and read a review by Roger Ebert. I so disagreed with most everything he said that I will take out bits of his review and counter them with my own.  Here's the whole thing in its entirety.

Roger will be blue. I will be black.

His opening paragraph:

Parables are stories about other people that help us live our own lives. The problem with the French film “Ricky” is that the lesson of the parable is far from clear, and nobody is likely to encounter this situation in his own life. That would be pretty much impossible. The story begins in gritty realism, ends in pure fantasy and leaves out most of the alphabet as it makes its way from A to Z.

I am a dreamer. I love imagining "what if,"  but more than that, I love finding a deeper meaning where I can. I try to give something a chance for that.  The fact that Roger takes this whole movie at face value just makes me a little bit sad. (may he RIP)    And I wasn't doing this the entire film, actively trying to find a deeper meaning.  I thought it was basically all silly until the very end when I was suddenly struck with something real.  I'm not saying my interpretation is what the maker intended and yes, maybe it is unclear, but I got one at least. And I think my feelings are real. Moving on.

No, he isn't an angel. Maybe more likely the result of his parents working at the chemical factory, although the movie doesn't make that a point. It doesn't much make anything a point. Katie and Lisa are about as amazed as if the child had a lot of hair on its head. You'd think babies with wings were born every day. Later, after Paco rejoins the family, baby Ricky gets a little injury, and the family doctor seems, to me, insufficiently amazed. Surely this is an OMG case?

NO, Roger! That's what makes this so fun! It's taking something ludicrous and putting it into humdrum life.  I LOVE that the mother and daughter share a tiny OMG moment (tiny) and then continue on because guess what? That's life. "holy crap, the baby has wings. What do I do? What do I know how to do? I'm a mother. I be a mother, i guess."  So they take care of him the best they can with what they have. I love this.  Cover the crib with a blanket so he can't fly out because they learned that lesson the hard way.  She measures a chicken wing at the grocery store just to have some kind of reference. They put a helmet on him and pad everything. Awesome.  Not that I was comparing this to real life throughout the movie. I really don't do the "that could never happen in real life" approach. Why should I ever expect movies to be like real life?  I took it as it came and on many levels it just made sense to me.

I couldn't help myself. All during the film, I was distracted by questions of aeronautics. In early scenes, those wings are way too small to allow a healthy baby to fly. Even later, the ratio of wingspan to baby weight seems way off. A scene where Ricky breaks free and flies around a supermarket seems designed for comedy, but doesn't play that way. And what kind of a cockamamie idea is it to hold a press conference and let Ricky fly with only Katie holding a string around his ankle? This is worse than the hot air balloon kid, if there had been one.

I get it. It's wacky.  It's ridiculous.  It's French! At times the baby bounces around and bumps into things and you seriously cringe.  i don't have much defense other than sometimes I just like a little wacky.

The film is bewildering. I don't know what its terms are, and it doesn't match any of mine. I found myself regarding it more and more as an inexplicable curiosity. It's so curiously flat in tone that when a baby grows wings and flies (think about that!), people in the film and in the audience seem to watch with no more than mild interest. “Ricky” makes a good case for lurid melodrama.

As mentioned, I love this. I love being like, "ok, the baby has wings. what are you going to do with that?" This is movies!   In the end, here's what happens:

Paco returns, committing himself to Katie and Lisa. Katie is glad to have him back but not quite willing to fully trust him yet.  He suggests arranging a sort of press conference or whatever to make some money. Not to make money off their son (he claims) but because they're kind of desperate for it and they don't really know what else to do. Word had gotten out about the flying baby when he escaped from the grocery cart at the store and flew around the ceiling.  

Everyone watches the flying baby outside. His ankle is tied to a string which Katie is holding. When they let him go everyone smiles watching the baby soar, making you feel like this is sort of what he's meant to do. He's got these wings. He should fly.  She accidentally lets go of the string and Ricky flies off over the treetops, over a lake and becomes lost.  She's heartbroken but the family accepts the situation i guess and after days/weeks?/longer? Paco tells her it's unlikely he survived.  She gets up early one morning, unable to sleep.  Wearing nothing but a white nightshirt, she walks out to the park by the lake where the baby was last seen. She walks into the water and while there, Ricky returns and lands on the grass.  

What happens next is the grand reveal, to me, of the point of the movie. It's a few minutes of raw emotion that suddenly brings you to a feeling and you experience a little sweet heartbreak. Just a taste.  While in the water, Katie hears her baby in the sky and he lands on the grass. Overjoyed she walks up to him, but slowly and tentatively, as she doesn't want to scare him off.  Mother, wet, naked and exposed, crawls up onto the grass and whispers to her son to stay, does he remember her? does he remember his mama? She begins to weep and says to him:

My love.

How you've grown 

Your wings are so big, and you can walk!  [as any mother would, after seeing their winged child come back to them after being gone for weeks]
And then with a look of regret mixed with love she says:

Are you ok?

You won't tell me? 

You're mad at me, is that it?

I didn't want to leave you.

When I let the string go I didn't want to lose you.

But flying, you were so beautiful. So beautiful.

And he flies away, for good, it would seem. At this point I begin to blubber a bit and I watch it a few more times.  After this, Ricky up and flies away.  Katie returns home and with a look of serenity she embraces a confused Lisa and Paco and tells them she loves them and they all stand there in the embrace for a while. 

So of course my take on this is a mother letting go of a child and coming to terms with that.  It seems pretty clear to me but maybe it's not.  It was sweet, tender, very simple, and sad.  I love simple sad. I don't know if I need epic sad.  But simple, poignant sad i can do.    


Alanna said...

I seriously keep thinking about To Live recently, so when I began reading your post, I was like, "AAAGGGHHHHHHH!!!! This is why Jen is my friend even though I've never met her!"

Anyway, I liked your review, even though I haven't seen Ricky. Now I'll have to sign up for Netflix again, I guess! I think Ebert's reviews got worse and worse, the longer he was a movie critic-- some of the movies he liked (like American Pie?!?!?!) just made me cringe... This movie sounds beautiful, though.

)en said...


MelBroek said...

I must not be as deep as you - this sounds horrifying.

I'm good with throwing in an element of improbability/impossibility (Edward Scissorhands, anyone?) and then seeing how people react. But Edward Scissorhands is adorable whereas a baby with nubby chicken wings is terrifying.

P.S. my FAVORITE part of Ebert's review is that he's discussing the physics of it all: SCREW THE BIOLOGY - HOW could he fly if the wing-to-baby-ratio is so ridiculous!?!?! Oh I laughed and laughed.

)en said...

You're right-- "wing to baby ratio." That's good stuff. :D