Every once in a while, I get on a genre kick. Sometimes it's horror, sometimes comedy or foreign. This week I was all about biopics.
"Bright Star" (2009)
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Ben Whisaw (Keats), Abbie Cornish (Fanny), Paul Schneider (Mr. Brown)
** (2 stars)
Based on the poet John Keats secret love affair with Fanny Brawne near the end of his life. Fanny comes from a somewhat established family and is of the age when she must think about marrying, and more importantly, marrying a man with money. Her best prospect is family friend and failed poet Mr. Brown, who teases her life a child on the playground. Enter young Keats- poor, mysterious, talented. Fanny is immediately drawn to him and their secret rendez-vous commence. Tragedy strikes when Keats contracts TB and is sent off to Rome to convelese. Months later, he is dead at 25- a failed poet.
If this sounds like spoilers, I apologize. However, history tells us these things so I don't feel I'm ruining anything. That you know the romance is ultimately tragic was part of the marketing campaign.
The film has a great premise. Part biography, part history, part love affair; how could it go wrong? But, wrong it does. The film feels overly long dispite coming in just under two hours long. The acting is good, Cornish and Schneider especially. Cornish displays the naivity and ideality young woman possess, and that many a heroine of romantic lore have been written around. Schneider, perhaps best known for independent films "All the Real Girls" and "Lars and the Real Girl", has a fantastic Scottish accent and teases Miss Brawne as if it's an Olympic sport. Whisaw is fine as Keats, but it does not compare to his "star making" turn in "Perfume" or more recently on BBC's "The Hour".
Furthermore, the film is boring. Too much film is spent on voice over's of letters written and poems being tried out when it could have shown the action to a much better result. Campion is the champion (pun intended) of quite, moody, romantic fare. Her approach is no different here, though I feel she was far more interested in her subjects personally than she was at making us fall in love with them.
The movie did make me want to know more, mostly because I was left knowing so little, so I jumped to Wikipedia for an overview. Five minutes browsing the internet left me with a much better taste in my mouth. Why didn't they play up the secrecy of their affair? No one knew until Fanny's death when she bequithed the love letters to her children. Her life was far more intersting during and after her time with Keats, I wish the film had focused more on her.
Next, I finally say Cronenberg's "departure" film.
"A Dangerous Method" (2011)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel
Awards: Golden Globe nomination, Best Supporting Actor- Viggo Mortensen, London and Los Angeles Critics Association Best Actor- Michael Fassbender, Venice Film Festival Golden Lion- David Cronenberg
Just after the turn of the century and prior to World War I, a destraught Russian woman, Sabina (Knightley), is delivered to Jung's Zurich clinic. She is histerical and fights help with every fiber of her being. Jung begin's what was then refered to as "the talking cure" on her, based on his readings of Freud's papers. As Sabina gets better, so does the relationship between student and teacher, both of Jung and Freud and Jung and Sabina) developes. Together, Freud and Jung work to develope and create what becomes psychoanalysis. As Sabina gets better, she begins a long-term affair with the married Jung that releases him from his own mental confines. She goes back to school and becomes a therapist herself. However, this love triangle soon becomes toxic to many involved ending in the infamous rift between these two masters of the mind.
The biggest surprise in this film may be Knightley. She physically embodes a woman suffering from past trauma's and guilt. The opening scenes in which her whole body fights her revelations is brilliant. Fassbender may be the most exciting actor of his generation. Jung could easily become an unsypathetic character, yet he creates a man flawed and accepting of his own flaws. Mortensen and Cronenberg should have a contract, along the same lines as Time Burton and Johnny Depp, and make as many films together as possible. Both bring the best out of the other and the unscene relationship that must be evident off camera bleeds into the performance.
The film makes clear the stylistic differences between Freud's and Jung's approach to the psyche that is easy for the layman to grasp. Again, it is the female character that is almost more interesting. Sabina graduates and becomes a respected psychoanalyst. During the war, she moves back to Russia with her husband and family. During World War II she refuses to leave her home and is killed, along with her children, by the Nazi's. That she is no longer forgotten is wonderful.
I would certainly recommend this movie to anyone interested in the birth of our understanding the mind, to those with a major crush on the actor's or director (guilty!), or to anyone interested in a movie that makes them think. I certainly understand you may need to be in the right mind set for such a film, but try to get there!
Cronenberg is a director that continues to grow even though he doesn't need to. Having made his name as the Canadian father of horror, he know puts that same eye to detail, destruction, and psychology to more realistic forms. His next project, "Cosmopolis", takes him back to the future armed with the character development he has perfected in recent years. Not even the presence of Robert Pattinson is enough to turn me off this film.