If the footloose Grim Reaper had a favorite song to send him pirouetting on a carpet of petals nipped in the bud, it could be Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
It's supposed to be an ode to the bliss of being alive, its lyrics utterly incandescent to our ears. We could have hummed along like we were swelling up until we could burp the rainbow into rising above us. But, alas, its evocation of paradise never fails to impress me as something fitting for a funeral procession.It could be the cocktail of rust and champagne in Armstrong's voice, as if he were tasting the ache of bearing witness to all things sweet and light, so sharp it could whittle his heart to its breaking point.
Happiness, after all, happens like refrains in a dirge. Pretty much like background accompaniment only to our front acts and its regular repertoire of these little deaths: our anxieties, our disappointments, the jiggle of our jaundiced eyeballs to the sonic boom of our sighs.
In this season that confronts us with a compulsion to be merry--the topic of my recent column at the op-ed page of Sun.Star Cebu--it is unavoidable for the vultures of worries to spread its wings over our heads. In the face of crisis--global, local, and personal--the pursuit of happiness does loom no less than an obstacle course up the paths of Sisyphus.
What does it take to be cheerful? It's the crux of the cinematic genius of Mike Leigh in his latest film, Happy-Go-Lucky, whose chuckle-prone protagonist comes in sunlit contrast to the stripped-to-the-bone depiction of lives exiled into their inner darkness in Naked (so fully embodied by David Thewlis in a bruising performance worthy of the Best Actor prize at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival).
Worth scrutinizing, indeed, how Leigh mines the dynamics of joy without drilling and driving headlong down the borders of escapism. So far, as in most of Leigh's works, those who have seen it are up on their toes in applause. (Click here to read the chorus of rave reviews.)
No less phenomenal is Sally Hawkins whose portrayal has been rewarded with a Best Actress trophy at this year's Berlin Film Festival. She's been coasting along with a wave of wow as critics' circles from New York, Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and Boston cast ripples all the way to the forthcoming Golden Globe and the Oscar awards.
"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy," exclaims Marcel Proust, "they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." Here's a bouquet, too, for Mike Leigh and Sally Hawkins. See the trailer below: