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‘Take This Waltz’ is the second feature film from writer/director Sarah Polley, based on her screenplay which made the coveted Black List in 2009. Whereas Polley’s feature film directorial debut, ‘Away From Her,’ was the tender story of a couple in the winter of their married life, ‘Take This Waltz’ follows a younger couple, married for only a few years, moving from the springtime of their romance, settling into what should be a warm, loving life together.
Set in Polley’s hometown of Toronto, she proudly admits that she romanticizes the city, and wanted to show her affection for the tree‐lined streets and downtown residential areas tucked in around neighborhood restaurants and cinemas. So she placed the story right onto the sidewalks, streetcars and beaches which she walks every day.
The title of the film, ‘Take This Waltz,’ comes from the Leonard Cohen song of the same name, the words of which Cohen interpreted from “Little Viennese Waltz” by the modernist poet, Frederico Garcia Lorca, who was assassinated in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. The lines read: “Now in Vienna there’s ten pretty women. There’s a shoulder where/Death comes to cry. There’s a lobby with nine hundred windows./There’s a tree where the doves go to die.”
“The lyrics are so tragic and romantic,” declared Polley. “You never completely understand it, but it makes perfect sense on some deep, emotional level. I listened to it non‐stop while writing the screenplay and it informed the tone of what I wanted to accomplish.”
In the story, Lou is the good husband, durable in his affection for his wife, grounded in his kitchen, as he diligently works his way through his chicken recipes; Margot, however, is a zephyr. Temperate in her self‐awareness, untethered by intention, she is easily propelled by gusts of inspiration coming from others. Side by side, making all the proscribed choices young, urban couples are advised to make, they move towards their future. Lou, contentedly – Margot, because she is his wife.
For Polley, this opening scene in the kitchen, domestic, yet dull, approaching claustrophobic; peaceful, yet intensely restless, is a bookend for the film. “I start and end the film with this scene, even though a great deal goes on in between,” said Polley, “I wanted to make a film about desire, not a philosophical essay, but to be inside of it, to feel how delicious it is, and how difficult it is for us, as human beings, to either turn our backs on that sensation or to live with the primal gap it creates, one that needs to be fulfilled. I wanted to show the process of someone trying to escape that essential state of being and how it doesn’t always work.”
In many respects, ‘Take This Waltz’ is a coming of age movie about a woman in her late 20s, for whom the veil concealing the reality of romance and relationships truly falls away, revealing an emptiness that cries out to be addressed. “For women like Margot, and most women I know in their 30s,” said Polley, “there is a point when they realize the ‘happily ever after’ relationship fairy-tales they were told about as a child are not quite true. If you’re lucky, there is a great love, but apart from that, how do you know if a relationship is ‘wrong’ or if needing/wanting/desire is a function of life being complicated? It’s not simple. You may be in a relationship where you are mostly happy, but also sad or angry ‐ and nothing prepares us for that.”
The emotional reality of relationships is complicated by the pervasive happiness imperative that runs through our lives. Relationship guidelines abound in books, magazines and online, dictating the levels of happiness we should be experiencing with our partners: are your needs being met? Can you communicate? Do you still laugh? Do you still enjoy being alone with them? Can you still overlook minor annoyances? Polley weighs in on this subject: “I think we live in a culture where if there is something missing in a relationship, then there is something wrong. It can be fixed, we are told, and it’s a failure to not fix it,” she said.
The honeymoon period of Margot and Lou’s marriage is over. Their fifth anniversary dinner scene at the restaurant, where they struggle to converse, poignantly highlights this. As the novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote, the cruelest lies are often told in silence. “There are very few couples who are completely engaged and fascinated by each other years into their relationship,” noted Polley. “Once you know someone that well, it’s hard to have the space between you to be interested and excited by each other’s company.”
Margot copes with this by adopting slightly baroque behavior: irregular in its rules, swinging wildly between baby talk, verbal jousting and perfunctory sex. Lou, who is having a hard time following her playbook, takes the passive approach. “Lou has a belief that if you don’t address something head on with words, it has a chance of just going away. I understand why he wants to avoid conversations. From an outside perspective, it’s so obvious that talking about the problem would be the better thing to do, but in an intimate relationship, it’s the scariest thing in the world to admit that there might be something insurmountable there,” explained Polley.
The marriage isn’t enough for Margot, but for Polley, the question becomes, “Is anything really enough? My wish is that throughout the film, people will not know what Margot should do and they’ll bring their own lives into the decision. There’s a tremendous amount of ambiguity in the film. For people who left a stagnant relationship and it was the right decision for them, I hope they’ll feel this film supports that. For those who have turned away from temptation, and stayed in a relationship, I hope this film will act as a confirmation that this was the right choice as well.”
Image Courtesy of Take This Waltz