Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Tulse Luper Suitcases Part 2: Vaux to the Sea (2004): Europeans are corrupt

The Tulse Luper Suitcases Part 2: Vaux to the Sea (2004)
dir: Peter Greenaway

In The Tulse Luper Suitcases Part 1, Peter Greenaway brought Tulse Luper from London to America to Belgium in a long and windy way of showing the various forces at work in the development of uranium into the atomic bomb. But, also showing the various aspects of society through the early 20th century, from the British devastation from World War 1 to the Mormon movement to the Nazi takeover of Europe.

This time around, Greenaway stays largely in France, to show the effects of the Nazi occupation through three different scenarios. In Part 1, Greenaway had to spend time getting the audience used to his style by re-iterating the facts frequently, and reintroducing us to characters. In Part 2, Greenaway figured that, if you're 2 hours into this experiment you should know what is coming. Eliminating the adjustment period allows Greenaway to focus on his other indulgences, such as architectural history, cinema history, and art history.

Part 2 covers episodes 4-6 of Tulse Luper's life. Remember that The Tulse Luper Suitcases is also "a life in 16 episodes" and "the personal history of Uranium." With these 3 episodes, Tulse Luper makes the run through France in an attempt to escape the Nazis, or at least save his own ass.

Episode 4 is set in Vaux-le-Vicomte, a French chateau built by Nicholas Fouquet, and also a source of jealousy from King Louis XIV. Of course, it is well known that the Nazis, during their occupation of France raided museums and palaces in order to steal valuable works of art. But, Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned by the jealous Louis XIV, who would create an ode to it in Versailles, and raid Vaux-le-Vicomte in order to fill Versailles with art and tapestries. Greenaway hammers the parallels home through elaborate scenes that take place in the 17th century. Tulse Luper is rescued by a Nazi soldier and a woman, in a relationship. But, as they are fleeing, the soldier kicks the woman out of the car.

Episode 5 regards a French cinema, which is running under Nazi occupation. The cinema shows mainly silent films, such as The Passion of Joan of Arc. While running the cinema, Tulse falls into an orgiastic group where he starts interacting with film and with the stories he sees. Also, the dumped woman finds him, and plots to kill a Nazi in the cinema. But, actually then is going to kill him, with Tulse's help, in a Cathedral. Tulse narrowly escapes this situation.

Episode 6 brings us to a house in Northern France with the Moitessiers, who are a bit out of their time element. The Moitessiers agree to hire Tulse Luper as their children's tutor, but they can only hire women. So, Tulse must dress as a woman. Monseiur Moitessier had had an affair with the previous nanny-dude, and would like one with Tulse. Meanwhile, Madame Moitessier is a cold, brutal woman who takes pleasure in abusing the help. When the world crumbles around them, Luper makes his bolt for the sea.

As in the previous episode, Greenaway's goal isn't to tell a completely coherent story about Luper. But, he's telling a story of European history, and European corruption. In the beginning of Part 2, Greenaway pointedly kills the Americans from Part 1, so that we can focus more on his history of corruption in the European vein. While saying that Nazis are corrupt would have been a facile statement, Greenaway isn't ever content with something so basic.

All three episodes are about the corruption of the ruling parties of Europe through history. He explores the corruption of the European government through the incidents between Louis XIV and Fouquet. This corruption is also evident not only through the wrongful imprisonment of Fouquet, the stealing of a bunch of erotic woodprints, statues and tapestries. But, the corruption is also shown through Fouquet's abandonment of traditional architecture by crafting Vaux wholly from his head, or something. And, in a way, he started to define a whole new architectural language...according to Greenaway.

The second episode explores the corruption of everyday people, setting the cinema as a place where both Nazis frequently went, and also the people went to be entertained by corruption. The historical corruption is explored through the corruption that lead to the burning of Joan of Arc. Greenaway, of course, isn't content for just Joan of Arc, and even wraps his own movies into the story of the European corruption.

The third episode is more about the corruption of complacency, especially in the complacent rich. While the Moitessiers didn't exist during the 20th century, they are used as examples of aristocracy believing that they can use people in order to get what they want. Whether this is by having drag servants that they abused sexually, or by having Black assistants they abused physically, they used their "cover" and the Nazi occupation to get their sick jollies out. The help was never altruistic, nor was it all that help. It begs the question whether this is actually the better choice, considering the last Nanny had been murdered. This whole corruption was exposed through two portraits of Madam Moitessier which had been started and finished at vastly different times. This would be a predecessor to Greenaway's Rembrandt's J'Accuse.

Greenaway is showing his hand even more than he did in Part 1. Cursory research finds the times Greenaway gives for Moitessier to be different than WWII, and Tulse Luper's life. So, why does he include it? What is he saying using these two specific people? Greenaway's postmodern style starts to rip itself apart, including two actors playing Tulse Luper, which may or may not be showing Luper's maturity, or may just be a way to get around long-term scheduling conflicts and budgeting.

But, Part 2 is the typical middle movie, where nothing much is added to the original. If you want to see Greenaway fucking around with European Nazi fiction, Part 2 is for you. It gets to his corrupt fantasies. Hell, it practically seems that Tarantino trainspotted the cinema scenes from the second episode for Inglorious Basterds, where it seemed very much, for a few minutes, that the lady was going to kill a head Nazi, and not just the guy who ditched her. But, it doesn't seem to add much other than getting Luper out to the sea, and out of the main battlegrounds of WWII so he can flourish.

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