Monday, April 4, 2011

“Jane Eyre,” “Potiche” in Theaters

By Skip Sheffield

When Palm Beach International Film Festival is in fsession it’s easy to forget what is going on with commercial releases. Here are a couple of films worthy of mention.
The first is “Jane Eyre.” Yes, this is the umpteenth film remake of Charlotte Bronte’s beloved 1847 novel, but I think this one is special. So do publications as influential as the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly.
Mia Wasikowska is a Jane Eyre for the 21st century, working with a smart, condensed 21st century script and a brooding-creepy, Gothic atmosphere imparted by young director Cary Fukunaga (the immigrants-in-peril “Sin Nombre”)..
Jane Eyre is famously described as “plain.” Mia Wasikowska is a perfectly attractive young woman (cute as a button in “Alice” and “The Kids Are All Right”), but she is made mousey up for her plain Jane, with dark hair tied back tightly in a bun (when it isn’t soaking wet), drab, frumpy clothes and sallow makeup.
The most important character of Jane is her native intelligence, and that is what shines in Wasikowska’s large, light brown eyes.
Jane is first and foremost a survivor; first of the death of her parents and then a tyrannical aunt (Sally Hawkins) who served as a stepmother, and a strict religious schooling bordering on the sadistic.
We meet Jane in flight from her terrible situation, soaked to the skin, trudging across sodden moors.
She finds a safe harbor in the cottage of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell), who lives with his two sisters.
The aptly-named St. John is a nice enough guy, but Jane is destined for greater things; namely the brooding aristocrat Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbinder), lord of a sprawling, gloomy estate.
Anyone who has had even the most elementary education knows how the story turns out, so there is no point in dwelling on that. What we can dwell on is the wonderful chemistry between Wasikowska and Fassbender. This is a Jane Eyre with passion and seething emotion. Who would have thought such a plain Jane was such hot stuff?

Catherine Deneuve is a Trophy Wife

“Potiche” is a pleasant feminist comedy by French director Francois Ozon, starring France’s favorite movie siren, Catherine Deneuve.
A potiche literally is a decorative vase, but in French slang it means “trophy wife.”
Ozon’s adaptation of a play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy
though set in 1977, it has a distinctly modern, familiar feel.
Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) is a trophy wife who rebels, in her own quiet, competent way.
When her husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) is laid low by a heart attack, Suzanne takes over the reins of his umbrella factory. This is a feminist fable, and therefore Suzanne is more capable, courageous and creative than her autocratic, misogynist husband ever was. Furthermore she involves her son and daughter in the family business; a feat Robert could never pull off.
To add a soupcon of romance to the tale, there is Maurice Babin (equally famous French movie star Gerard Depardieu), a former lover who is now the town’s mayor and a champion of the workers of the world. Will Suzanne be seduced by her own new power or the powerful attraction of Maurice?
The movie still seems like a play; a kind of French farce, but if it appeals to American audiences, writer-director Ozon will be very happy.
“Catherine Deneuve has never been a stage actress, and to the French audience it was quite shocking to see her take on this role,” said Ozon during Miami International Film Festival at the W Hotel. “There is something magical with her and the camera. In America you have Meryl Streep, who has a similar quality.”
Ozon worked with Deneuve previously on “Eight,” when she was but one of eight actresses and stories.
“This time it was different; she is the star,” declares Ozon. “She is very realistic. She is more interested in power than sex. The play is more of a farce, but I see the husband as more of a tragic figure. I think you find trophy wives everywhere in the world, and certainly in America. Catherine is the ultimate trophy wife.”

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