WHAT WE THOUGHT
AN AMERICAN RHAPSODY
A married couple, Margit and Peter, played by Natassja Kinski and Tony Goldwyn, have to escape from Hungary. They have two young daughters and can only take the older one who is five years old. They have to leave the baby behind because it would be too dangerous if the baby cried. We see their escape and feel their tension — bribing guards, running across a field, traveling in a train dressed as peasants. We see their love for their baby and the distress when they find out that their plans for having her smuggled out to join them in Vienna are thwarted. To save the baby, the Grandmother, played by Agnes Banafalvy, makes arrangements to have the baby raised by a childless peasant couple, Teri and Jeno, played by Zsuzsa Czinkoczi and Balazs Galko. They come to love the little girl as their own and she grows up loving them as well. In the meantime, the Margit and Peter and their older daughter arrive in America. They never stop trying to get their younger daughter out by writing letters to public officials. Finally, after six years, they obtain permission to bring their little girl to America.
What follows is perhaps the strongest part of the film as the child who knows only the peasant family as her own and who doesn’t speak a word of English, is suddenly taken from her idyllic childhood and thrust into a life in a small Los Angeles suburb. The young actress who plays the 6-year old Suzanne, Kelly Endresz-Banlaki is wonderful. I really felt the confusion and upset of the young child who misses her homeland and tries her best to adapt to her new life. These scenes are touching and mixed with comedy and pathos and I couldn’t keep my tears from flowing. The scene suddenly shifts to nine years later. Suzanne is now a rebellious teenager in constant conflict with her mother. When she picks up a rifle and tries to shoot her way out of her locked bedroom, it is obvious she is in crisis. At her pleas, the family allow her to go back to visit Hungary.
A GOOD WOMAN
Two women play the central roles in `A Good Woman.’ One is Mrs. Erlynne, `a woman of experience’ (Helen Hunt, cast against type) a seductive middle-aged woman from New York. Shunned by the aristocratic society, she still hopes to win the love of gentleman – a rich gentleman – and here in Italy, it seems, she has already attracted some of them. One of them is `Tuppy’ (delightful Tom Wilkinson), who refuses to listen to the rumor about Erlynne.
The other woman is Lady Windermere, `a woman of innocence’ (Scarlett Johansson), who is newly married, and devotes herself to her husband. After arriving at this beautiful Italian resort, however, her husband Lord Windermere (Mark Umbers) seems to have got nervous about something, some secret he knows, which lady’s man Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore) also happen to notice in his checkbook.
The film retains the basic storyline of Wilde’s original. There is a twist (as in the original) which might or might not surprise you. All in all the filmed version is successful in maintaining our interest in the story, which gets melodramatic especially in the second half. The changed location is not a bad thing to me (the `stagy’ films are not my cup of tea), but the changed times are a different matter. The 1930s is, I m afraid, too modern a period to make the rigid social conventions of late Victorian convincing. The first part of the film is, I think, considerably weakened by the changed situation and lengthy introduction.
Scarlett Johansson plays the young Griet, the daughter of a former tile painter who is sent across town to serve the Vermeer household. Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth), a painter, is drawn to Griet’s quiet loveliness. Though few words pass between them, their mutual eye for aesthetics develops into strong attraction and deep appreciation. Her pure complexion also attracts Vermeer’s vulgar patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) and the young butcher Pieter (Cillian Murphy).
Each frame is a painting within itself, supported by a charming score (though some have called the music obnoxious). Though every scene is beautiful, Griet’s position is not romanticized; her arduous labor is evident throughout the movie. Instead of altering the story to conform to a 95 minute film, sections of the story are simply deleted or unexplained. Particularly the character of Tanneke is underdeveloped, compared to the book character.
The acting is dramatic yet understated. Expressions are affectively portrayed without losing subtlety. Johansson expressively displays the young, almost timid side of Griet. Colin Firth is an attractive Vermeer; he has natural and exciting reactions. Tom Wilkinson is surprisingly low key as Van Ruijven, compared to the character in the novel; however, he still manages to be repulsive. Essie Davis’s performance is also a standout as Vermeer’s insecure wife, Catharina.
The DVD sports amazing A/V Quality for an older title. The special features range from a look at the construction of scenes to trailers to commentaries about the respective films. It’s a nice mix of three smaller films from Scarjo’s body of work. It’s just that I would’ve liked to seen cleaned up transfers. As it stands, it’s just a collection of three previously released DVDs. Rent this set to get them all in one place.
RELEASE DATE: 03/03/09