Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 255 (10/16) -- Moving Pictures by Kathryn & Stuart Immonen

This is not a book about the kind of pictures that move while you look at them; it's about the kind of pictures that move when you're not looking -- the ones that are moved away to save them, or spirit them away from their rightful owners, to protect or to steal. It's set some time in the middle of WW II, in Paris -- the Nazis have taken over, and are firmly enough in control to spend some attention on France's art treasures, but Moving Pictures never says exactly when it does take place, or loses its focus enough to zoom out to show us the larger picture.

So: there's a war going on, outside, somewhere. But we're not out there. We're deep within one museum, where both minor curator Ila Gardner (who came over from Canada before the war, and refused at least one opportunity to get back during it) and officer Rolf Hauptmann (of the German Military Art Commission) are trying, in their own separate ways, to make sure those pictures move to the places where they belong. But, even though they're lovers -- or, at least, they've had sex with each other -- they don't agree at all about where that art does belong.

Moving Pictures begins with a scene in which Rolf (in his professional capacity) questions Ilsa (in hers) as to the whereabouts of a number of art works, without ever specifying which ones. The story then loops backwards and forwards through Ila's work and contacts in Paris, from Jane, another young Canadian Ila sends home under her own passport, to Marc, a fellow curator, who travels with a secret shipment or art out into hiding in the countryside. The art in question is occasionally shown but rarely named, and never both at once -- it's all just a sea of art, the medium in which all of these characters move and the most important thing in their lives. The larger political and military struggle goes on entirely outside of this story -- Hitler is never mentioned, and the war barely alluded to. Ila and Rolf have much more important things to worry about.

The obvious referent for Moving Pictures is Matt Kindt's Super Spy books, which are also moody black-and-white stories about people with divided loyalties and too many secrets in Europe during WWII. But the Immonens aren't interested in action the way Kindt is; Moving Pictures is, at heart, the examination of one woman, Ila Gardner, during that most dangerous and stressful of times. Very little actually happens to Ila in Moving Pictures, but the story is entirely driven by her choices and actions -- though we often only see them in retrospect and at a distance. She's a prickly, difficult woman -- devoted to her work while at the same time always speaking of it with deprecation -- whose motives and thoughts are always kept at a distance. We know what she has done -- by the end of Moving Pictures, we can figure it out -- but we don't really know why. But, perhaps, she's as unknowable and distant -- yet still full of ambiguities and possibilities -- as a great painting herself?

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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