It had been 20 years since I’d seen Jon Jost’s “All the Vermeers in New York.”  In that time you can come to remember a film very differently than when you had first seen it. Tonight I gave it another look, this time concentrating more on the development of its characters than the plot itself. Having put so much time between showings and empathizing a little more with its leads,   I saw the movie in a different light. For starters, it is not a movie for everyone.  I don’t say that in a way to judge those who can’t sit through Bergman or Wenders.  Plenty of intelligent people have preferred Hollywood blockbusters over the likes of “Tree of Life.”  And someone who says they can watch “Faraway So Close” five times before they sit through ten minutes of “Indiana Jones” is more than likely lying.There is a place for the pace of the art film, though and it is evident in the Jost movie.  I’m sure when I last saw it, I went because it was loved by critics and loathed by audiences.  I was in my twenties and that is what people do at that age.  The unfortunate thing is I never gave it much thought at the time.  I do remember not caring for the character of Anna and being empathetic to Mark.   I remember realizing her selfishness and his desire to love, but I missed the bigger parts of their characters, especially in the final scene.

All the Vermeers in New York  revolves around a relationship that is one-sided through most of the film and pits a man’s loneliness up against a woman’s inability to be the least bit relational.  We do not know the reason Mark is so angst ridden and Anna so inauthentic, but neither are represented in a way to be blamed for who they are; you just wish they were better people.   This may be why the movie  is one of those you love or hate.  If you relate to Mark and Anna’s situation (and perhaps even to their lack of maturity) you find reasons to like it.  If you don’t relate to the characters, you just see two people who are fairly normal and should learn to be adult enough to behave differently.

The pace of the movie may be too slow for many tastes, but it doesn’t take long to want to tell Mark to leave Anna alone and find one of those women he can fawn over or to tell Anna to get over thinking she is the only one in the world who matters.  But that misses the point, because they may love each other.  At least we come to think it may be possible for them to do so.  That is one of the peculiarities of the film.  It moves in real time for ten minutes or so and skips a day or two to only return to another few minutes in real time.  This is the pattern of the whole movie and though that is the case with most movies, you are very aware of it here if only because you have to surmise what the  characters have been thinking at those times the movie does not show. We get few clues as to what those thoughts may be, though we do know they concern love or something akin to it and  on Anna’s part perhaps a change of heart.  When this happens, however, it is too late and not too late in the way one would think.  That punch in the gut  scene serves as the second to last scene in the movie.

The last scene has Anna at the Metropolitan thinking on the words of Proust and it makes you realize why you can never really come to dislike either Anna or Mark, why in fact you do like them and may even like them very much.  The soliloquy that closes the movie mirrors the meeting of the film’s two main characters and it lets the film show again the most potent player  in the movie who has never said a word and remains off screen save for a few minutes.  (You can see her picture at the top of the post.)

Through their mutual admiration for it, Vermeer’s portrait of a  young girl  introduced Mark and Anna to one another. Her unattainable nature comes to represent their downfall just as her consistent presence that has endured generations represents a sort of eternal destiny they share with each other and anyone who has come to value ideal beauty over the real world.   When she is wedded to the words of Proust, you come to know that Anna and Mark are not really of this world as their aesthetics never really make them citizens of this place.  An undercurrent through most of the movie is homesickness and a longing to be in another place.

At the film’s conclusion you are  left either perplexed or satisfyingly unfulfilled, probably both.    You despise the despair or timidity of the characters or you say people like them can never be together   and empathize with them for that reason.  In the end you wonder why  Mark and Anna relate at all before it hits you that we are all at one time or another a Mark or Anna.


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