Mark Holcomb of The Village Voice is right: Jennifer Lopez, in Angel Eyes (2001), is “winningly brassy/bashful.” In this Luis Mandoki film, written by Gerald DiPego, she plays a brassy/bashful policewoman, while handsome Jim Caviezel plays a shaken fellow on a moonbeam. The two fall in love.
For about an hour Angel Eyes sustained me because of J. Lo’s performance and pulchritude and the film’s considerable freshness. Indeed, it is not oblivious to the spiritual dimension of human life. But by and by DiPego throws all credibility and unsentimental honesty out the window, as witness the silliness about Caviezel’s newly received blessing of a pet dog named Bob. That spiritual dimension hardly means very much alongside material like this. Let it be lamented, too, that Hollywood folks do not care how sentimental their movies are so long as they’re unabashedly commercial; that’s all that matters. But I want to believe that Lopez and Caviezel rise above the money-mindedness enough to respect their craft of acting, for neither of them lets us down. And there’s still that worthwhile first hour.
After his divorce and a short time in prison, Andreas Winkleman (Max von Sydow) lives a solitary life until, first, he sleeps one time with a lovely neighbor (Bibi Andersson) and, second, he begins a romantic liaison with the damaged Anna (Liv Ullmann). A Passion, not The Passion of Anna, is the actual title of this 1969 Ingmar Bergman film when it is correctly translated, with passion as a synonym for suffering. Needless to say, this being a Bergman movie, Andreas and the other characters do suffer.
What is more, Bergman was impressed by the observation of a particular philosopher that people live strictly according to their needs, both positive and negative. He means for his people here to verify that. At the end of the film, the needs of Andreas conflict with each other and there is painful irresolution. A limited profundity is in this, but much more can be found in A Passion, which is also about isolation and the lies we tell to make it seem there is less isolation.
The film is brilliant, especially visually, but is yet another excessively talky Bergman piece. Predictably, the acting is magnificent. Max von Sydow was never more incisive, more soulful. As well, however, Bergman is the same old skeptic about religion (unlike me). He never—and I mean never—understood it. A Passion is easier to take than the Swedish artist’s other movies, excepting Winter Light, but I finally cannot accept it.
(In Swedish with English subtitles)
Unlike his other major films of the Nineties, Zhang Yimou‘s The Story of Qiu Ju (1993) is set in contemporary China and is thus not a period piece. It is, however, a film that enables him once again to censure authoritarianism (read Communism) while unassumingly focusing on other subjects and themes as well. The elusiveness of justice, the problem of persistence without thought, the alien nature of the big city to a rural denizen—these are the most important themes. The struggle to win an official apology is Qiu Ju‘s subject. The struggle is undertaken by a pregnant peasant woman (Gong Li), and the movie ends sadly enough to further buttress Zhang’s vision.
(In Mandarin with English subtitles)