erik lundegaard

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Friday June 01, 2012

Movie Review: A Checkout Girl's Big Adventure (Les tribulations d'une caissière) (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“A Checkout Girl’s Big Adventure” is hardly a cashier du cinema.

Here’s a scene three-quarters of the way through that exemplifies its monumental stupidity, its arc de stupid, its tour imbecile.

Our title character, Solweig (Déborah François), a cashier at a Target-like store, is being followed into the women’s locker room (cashiers have locker rooms in France?) by the creepy, petty floor manager, Mercier (Jean-Luc Couchard), who has just found out—ah ha!—that the mysterious blogger, misscheckingout.com, who has gotten over a million hits expounding on customer-service matters, and whose posts have led to the beginning of a nationwide strike by checkout girls in France (are there no checkout boys in France?), is, in fact ... Solweig! She’s the one who’s making the lives of management miserable! So what does he do with this information? How does he handle Solweig, who, he now knows, has the ear of the nation and a forum with which to talk to millions about every aspect of her day?

He sexually assaults her, of course. Wouldn’t anyone?

poster for "Les tribulations d'une caissiere" or "A Checkout Girl's Big Adventure" But wait! At that moment, passing by, is a young, handsome man dressed in a Santa Claus suit. (It’s Christmastime.) He’s named Charles (Nicolas Giraud), and he has a thing for Solweig, and she for him, because one night when it was snowing as prettily as it snows in snowglobes, she, in the midst of breaking up with a boyfriend we’ve never seen, slips in the snow and Charles emerges from a limo to help her up. Like in a fairy tale! He also gives her his phone number, which is subsequently besmirched and made illegible by her bratty 10-year-old brother, whom she is raising alone, so of course she can’t call and make a date and continue along the path of young love. Fortunately, he finds out about her, since her store ID card slips from her purse as she’s leaving a tutoring gig, where the tutee, another bratty thing who thinks it’s cool to talk in hip-hop slang, just happens to be ... wait for it ... Charles’ brother! So now he knows where she works. He can ask her out.

Except he delays. He’s wondering: Is she a teacher? Is she a cashier? What is she? And rather than ask, he dresses up as Santa Claus so he can spy on her without revealing himself. But when Mercier attempts to rape her, he reveals himself: he bursts in, head-butts Mercier, gapes at Solweig, then flees.

But wait! Our heroine, who is sweet, pretty and rather self-satisfied for someone with such a shitty job, has just been revealed as a hugely successful blogger, then assaulted by her scummy boss, then saved by the man of her dreams. What does she do? Why, she follows the man of her dreams into the parking lot to thank him. No no, I'm sorry, that would make too much sense. No, she follows him out into the parking lot ... to berate him for making her lose her job. Seriously. “Now I’ve lost my job!” she wails. “I’ve lost everything because of you!” Because of him? Because he saved her from rape? From her boss? She can get fired for that?

Besides, doesn’t she get it? A million hits. Talked about on the nightly news. Fomenting a national strike. How can she not see the upside of all of this? Surely it means a book deal. Maybe even a best-seller. Perhaps called, as this film is called, Les tribulations d'une caissière.

Because we can see it. We can see it a mile off.

“Checkout Girl” could’ve been good. Its topic is a relevant one. Many of us have been there. I worked as a cashier for a number of years at a bookstore in Seattle, and I too was driven crazy by the mindless, endless repetition, the sometime-nasty customers, the often insipid management. I once wrote a short story called “Bags” about a cashier who anthropomorphizes the bags he’s supposed to give away; who treats the bags as more human than the customers. It began:

The question about the bags was the penultimate part of an eight-step procedure Scott Widdershins repeated 240 times a day, 4800 times per month, or approximately 28,800 times in his first half year at the Pine Avenue branch of R & R Books. The procedure began with a greeting (“Hello”) and segued into a request for a form of payment (“Cash, check, or charge?”); then, while the purchases were being rung up, and though it was not recommended in The R & R Employees Handbook, Scott usually attempted some kind of conversation with the customer (about literature, or the local sports team, or, daringly, politics); afterwards, credit card slip signed, driver's license number confirmed, change given, Scott asked about the bags. “Would you like a bag?” he asked. There were five types at R & R Books--small, medium and large (paper), medium and large (plastic)--and if the answer was affirmative, and once a preference for paper or plastic was sorted out, Scott slipped their purchases into the properly-sized bag, thanked them, and turned to help the next customer coming down the line.

(Sorry about Widdershins.)

“Checkout Girl” has some of that. In her blog posts she writes about the weight of all the goods they scan every day: a ton, she says; an elephant’s worth of stuff. But her posts, at least translated into English, seem too general and obvious to garner any kind of attention, let alone a million hits, let alone the ear of the nation.

But of course it’s a fairy tale.

The biggest part of the fairy tale? That she’s trapped in her job. She’s blonde, with movie-star looks, and a hugely popular forum. What can’t she do? Her checkout mates include a heavyset black woman with two jobs and too many kids; a peppy Muslim girl with two jobs, one kid and another on the way; and a middle-aged white journalist for a nefarious magazine who is trying to uncover misscheckingout.com. When she does, when she exposes Solweig as a star, she, in a sense, releases both white girls from the checkout-girl trap. They go on to better things. The colored girls remain behind. Your fairy tale isn’t everyone’s fairy tale.

Les tribulations d'une caissière” was apparently recommended for the Seattle International Film Festival this year by a sponsor, the French embassy in San Francisco, and for that I’d like to thank them. Because it’s a movie that furthers cultural understanding. It reminds us that French films aren’t always as good as “L’Heure d’ete,” or “Un Prophete,” or “Des hommes et des dieux.” Some are as awful as the worst crap coming out of Hollywood.

Merci.

Posted at 07:32 AM on Jun 01, 2012 in category General
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Tuesday February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day: The Point of the Story

The point of the story is to keep the lovers apart. That’s where the drama is. That’s what we paid to see. We want to anticipate them being together, we want to hope for them to stay together, but once they do stay together they become a bit dull. They share a bathroom and go to work and come home and share a bathroom. They’re no longer lovers. They’re a couple. Who wants to watch that? Nobody. Not even the couple. Especially not the couple.

So the goal of the dramatist is to keep the lovers apart for as long as possible. How? However. Family hatreds, class issues, war. She’s married, he’s shallow, they’re gay. He doesn’t recognize true love, neither does she. Fiddle-dee-dee and lah-dee-dah and Play it again, Sam. Stella! Elaine! Adrian! Or the old standby: Please, we’re British.

Which is to say if you’re alone on this awful day of forced national celebration of what Gore Vidal once referred to as “love love love”? You’re the point of the story.

Posted at 08:35 AM on Feb 14, 2012 in category General
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Thursday January 05, 2012

Happy New Year! Five Days Late

Happy New Year!

I know. I’ve had a cold.

Being in the publishing business, I’ve been living in 2012 for a while now (I’m up to July), but I like the idea of fresh starts and New Year’s resolutions, even though most of them go the way they go. There’s a great, small Danish bakery, Nielsen’s, a block from where I work, and one day in January, two or three years ago, in the depths of the Global Financial Meltdown, as I was waiting for my mid-afternoon latte and happy-hour nosh (most likely a custard-filled snitter), I asked the barista how business was going. I was worried about them, as I was worried about all small businesses in the area. She admitted that things were pretty slow. “But they should pick up around February,” she added. Februrary? I wondered. Had she heard something I hadn’t? “Why February?” I asked. “That’s when most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions,” she said.

New Year's drinksWe are what we are. But I still like the idea of resolutions even though I don’t write down the New Year’s variety. Maybe my resolution for next year is to write down my New Year’s resolutions.

The ones floating about my head for this year involve getting serious about French again, or Chinese, which is still better than my French, or writing this or that long unfinished project, or reviewing and ranking every superhero movie or baseball movie. They involve reading more, and reading more fiction, and traveling more, and...

Unfortunately, there’s only so much time in the day. In this way, the resolutions contradict one another. They jostle one another for my attention. Me! Choose me! I doubt I can do superhero movies and baseball movies. I can’t study French and Chinese. Things get left behind. Most things. Life sweeps us along.

It’s all about time and interest. I have too little free time and too many interests. I suppose I’ll worry the year when my interests become manageable. It’ll indicate a decided lack of interest in things.

So here’s to the New Year. Here’s to the illusion that we have all the time in the world.

Posted at 08:41 AM on Jan 05, 2012 in category General
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Saturday January 08, 2011

Photo of the Day

Posted at 07:57 AM on Jan 08, 2011 in category General
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Friday December 31, 2010

The Last Blog Post of 2010

I'm still in the process of seeing some of the big U.S. releases in December (“King's Speech”; “True Grit”), so I'm holding off on my Top 10 list until all that's done. If I can't promise punctuality I can promise thoroughness. Since I can't be the first out with a top 10 list, I hope to be the last.

In the meantime, here are the movies I've reviewed so far this year. “Un Prophete” and “Restrepo” are still tops for me.

What about you? Favorite movies from 2010?

Feel free to include favorite books and songs as well. I really need songs.

(And for anyone who thinks the conceptual video with great dancing is dead, please check out Janelle Monae's “Tightrope,” which I first came across via Time magazine's top 10 list. A sure sign you're old: when Time magazine is hipper than you.)

Good-bye, 2010. Skol, everyone.

Posted at 09:14 AM on Dec 31, 2010 in category General
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