Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Optimism as Escape

In watching both Rosetta and Time Out, I was struck by the duality that accompanied both Rosetta and Vincent; their affect to the audience, their relationship to employment, and even a certain symmetry in their actions. Watching these alongside Berlant's "Cruel Optimism", I wondered whether her concept of cruel optimism, "...this thing that keeps you from flourishing also is that which sustains you", or a certain duality to cruel optimism, could be interpreted as a feeling of escape.

In portraying Rosetta and Vincent as not particularly likable characters, both the Dardennes and Cantet are deliberately trying to convince us of the realness or 'grittiness' of these semi-protagonists. The Dardennes, with the shaky hand-held cameras that are constantly trying to 'catch up' with Rosetta's fast course even instill a certain cinema-verite appeal that serves to underscore Rosetta's realness. The audience desperately wants to pity Rosetta's situation at home and Vincent's charade of continuing his job, but the audience hesitates, and is left with an affect torn between sympathy and disapproval.

This duality is perhaps best represented by Rosetta, who has seemingly equated happiness with employment and becomes obsessed with taking over Riquet's job at the waffle stand. She seems to thrive in a space of duality: in both the prayers she says to herself at night, to most of her actions (despite her alcoholic mother, Rosetta quickly downs the beer Riquet offers her on their outing). The audience is left troubled by the film's ending - we cannot tell whether Rosetta has found happiness and are robbed of a good Hollywood ending (not that this film ever promised us one). The situation that she so acutely wishes to escape also seems to be what sustained her. Inhabiting the space of wanting employment and being denied, a certain duality in this unemployed limbo that she thrives in during the film, was in fact her escape.

Similarly, Vincent's facade of employment ends up replicating his previous job. In this elaborate reconstruction of his job, Vincent finds more escape than simply telling his wife he was fired. Again, the audience is left with an ambiguous ending as to whether Vincent will come back to 'reality'.

Perhaps this duality is a different, but similar, interpretation of Berlant's claim that the present is experienced as an impasse. Rather than thinking of an impasse as a cul-de-sac or dead-end, perhaps the connotation of 'stalemate' helps illustrate how duality may play a factor in how we experience the present and wish to escape it.

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