At the movies · Catchphrases

“Is there a point to all this?”

“Is there a point to all this?” This question has not emerged from some deep existential reflection, nor from a review of the pieces posted on this Blog so far. It’s a line from a French movie I saw in the 1980s, which comes to mind every now and then. Back then, without search engines, without access to any part of the internet, we relied on our memories. We remembered things. We took notes, we made lists, we revised. Some of my friends used Filofaxes to help them with this. I made brief notes in my pocket diaries and, occasionally, reporters’ notebooks. I had a notebook from the HMSO, which had a hard cardboard cover. It was where I kept various lists for many years, including my record of Oscar winners, updated year on year until well into the 1990s.

The French film referred to in that previous paragraph was “Notre Histoire”, directed by Bertrand Blier and starring Alain Delon. That much I remembered, and I recall seeing it at the Cannes Film Festival. IMDB tells me that it also starred Nathalie Baye, and its plot summary begins: “A desperate alcoholic reaches a turning-point in his life when he meets a strange woman in a railway carriage”. My memory doesn’t recall Delon’s character as “a desperate alcoholic” but maybe he was. I recall his repeated attempts to track down a cold beer, and the satisfied expression on his face whenever he got hold of one. It was either very good acting or he really needed a beer. I also recall the look on his face as a woman (not Nathalie Baye, or at least I don’t think was her) was recounting some mundane, rambling story. He interrupted her with, “Is there a point to all this?” It’s a phrase that goes through my mind when listening to some aimless story about people I will never meet. There were a few examples of it late last year, from someone I had met once or twice before, and I hope that there will not be enough clues here for anyone to work out who she is.

A typical story might begin like this:

“It’s like my friend Sally in the village. She’s got two children, Clare and Julie, and they’re both in their 20s. Clare, I think she’s 24, no, hang on, no, she’s 25 now. And she went to Durham where she read English. Or was it History. Hmm, English I think. I’m sure it was Durham. And Julie, well, she didn’t go to university straight from school, decided to take a year off, because she hadn’t done very well in her A-Levels. And when she did go she was thinking first of going to Sheffield, but instead decided to go to Warwick, and …”

By this stage the phrase, “Is there a point to all this?” will be going through my mind rather insistently. I would prefer to hear a work of fiction described in great detail than listen to the biographical details of people I am unlikely to meet. At least with a book, play or film there’s a chance you might know it already, and if not you can always check it out for yourself. You wait for some insight, some generalized wisdom, some point to emerge from the story of Sally from the village and her daughters, and there is none. “Is there a point to all this?” Usually, no.



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