Pride and Prejudice has been filmed again, this time by Joe Wright and with an ampersand in the title. Now it’s Pride & Prejudice(2005) and it stars Keira Knightley (of course) as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew MacFadyen as Darcy. I learn from critic David Edelstein that “Wright has said in interviews that he approached the novel as a piece of gritty English social realism” (Slate.com), which is fine as long as Jane Austen’s themes do not get lost in the process. They don’t. Scriptwriter Deborah Moggach is steadfast in her focus on the pride and prejudice of the two chief characters, and decisively does the film reveal the slow empowerment of the middle class in late 18th-century England. For once I agree with Edelstein: the movie is very good. That social realism is reflected in the fine costumes and the even finer production design. Dario Marianelli’s music is gorgeous, and the directing more imaginative than arty.
In the West, the lives of most little girls are hardly devoid of privileges and delights. In China of the 1930s, however, little girls were rigidly undervalued and sold by their impoverished parents (or keepers) to ensure all-around survival.
“Doggie” (Zhou Ron-Ying), the child in the Chinese picture The King of Masks (1996), has keepers, not parents. An elderly street performer, Wang (Zhu Xu), is fooled into thinking she is a young boy and buys her, only to be shocked and dismayed when it transpires she is a girl. It is only a boy who can inherit Wang’s silk mask entertainment trade after he dies. Not without pity, the old man allows “Doggie” to work for him, but a string of awful misfortunes makes it, for a while, impossible for him to support her.
Many a theme receives attention in Wu Tianming‘s rich film: childhood destitution, the ubiquity of injustice, the seeming need (when it is a need) for accepting fate, pariahism. For all its dramatics, King is no masterpiece of drama—it needs a sturdier plot—but it is interesting and beautifully chaste. It ends on sentimental note but it is also an affecting film.
A terrific film noir produced in China, So Close to Paradise was made in the late Nineties, banned for three years by the Red government, and—hooray!—subsequently released in the U.S. It didn’t make me think of Forties and Fifties Hollywood, though, but rather of the lofty Euro film of Antonioni and lesser artists, what with its angst, its silence and its careful visuals. The “music” of the picture are the sounds of a tugboat, heavy rain, high heels on pavement and—well, sober tones. Lamentably, serious cutting was done by the Chinese studio, but filmmaker Wang Xiaoshunai‘s talent still shines through. The thin plot is quite digestible, and actress Wang Tong is lovely as she credibly plays a worldly nightclub singer.
A character called Gao Ping (Guo Tao), a man of greed and lust, is one of the film’s three losers. The other two are Gao’s young pal Dongzai and Wang’s nightclub singer, Ruan Hong. After his partner-in-crime makes off with Gao’s stolen money, Gao tracks down Ruan because she knows where the jerk can be found. In fact he has to abduct her, and he rapes her. Amazingly, the two become a couple (don’t tell the feminists). Thereafter there is trouble. Angst. Also, however, the plot loses its hold on us (it did on me). Only the technical sophistication begins to matter, but so be it. I still had a good time with So Close to Paradise.
In The Young Messiah (2016) Jesus, as a young boy, does not yet know that God the Father has predestined him to be . . . everything. Alpha and Omega. The Savior of the world. Cyrus Nowrasteh crafted the film in such a way as to suggest that the earthly existence of the child is relevant to all humanity, as when he shows Jesus looking intently at various individuals. And when he shows him intermittently doing what his parents generally oppose him doing: performing a healing. How could he not be the Anointed One?
Based on an Anne Rice novel, Christ the Lord Out of Egypt, the movie explores not only the theme of destiny but also the themes of family love and loyalty, the Fatherhood of God, and the actually inescapable nature of the invisible world. . . There is weakness in The Young Messiah, and the film can get confusing. But Adam Greaves-Neal is the right fit for Jesus, along with some fine acting emanating from Christian McKay as the boy’s uncle, Sean Bean as the Roman Severus, and Sara Lazzaro as Mary. It is an interesting work with many sapid touches, e.g. several Herod-sent Roman soldiers clearly disinclined to seize the young Jesus before whom they stand.
Another great, or at least very good, Yasujiro Ozu film, Late Spring(1949) concerns a young Japanese woman, Noriko (Setsuko Hara), whose 56-year-old father (Chisu Ryu) wants her to marry despite the daughter’s insistence that she is happy simply to live with and take care of the middle-aged gent. Indeed, it is a matter not only of happiness but also of obligation—in Noriko’s eyes, not the eyes of others. Sadly, Noriko feels despondent over the upcoming matrimony she has agreed to.
This Ozu (director-scenarist)-Kogo Noda (scenarist) adaptation of a novel is excellent on the theme of painful transitions, and as open-eyed about loneliness as other Ozu films. There are longueurs here and rather too much music, but certainly the film is far more interesting than the boring Noh play several of the characters serenely watch. Hara is superlative and Ozu’s style a gentle wonder ready to undergo a nice extension for such later movies as Tokyo Story.