THE TRUMAN SHOW - KURT AND COURTNEY
MULAN - CAN'T HARDLY WAIT
SIX DAYS SEVEN NIGHTS - BEYOND SILENCE
THE TRUMAN SHOW
In "The Truman Show," Australian director Peter Weir has created a biting satire where the quest for ratings results in morally reprehensible behavior which is reminiscent of the great "Network." But where "Network" dealt with an entire lineup of shows, "The Truman Show" focuses on the one creation of meglomaniac Christof (Ed Harris), playing God with an entirely artificial Northeast coastal town of Seahaven, peopled with actors and one unwitting participant, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey). Christof proclaims his show 'true life,' where events aren't faked but controlled. But Truman is in fact a prisoner of turmoil as he tries to sort out his life in "The Big Hit."
Eclectic director Peter Weir ("Witness," "Fearless," Green Card") has teamed with comedy sensation Jim Carrey and created a true original. Truman Burbank (Carrey) lives on lovely Seahaven Island and sells insurance. Unknown to Truman, for the past 30 years his life has been broadcast, morning, noon and night, to millions of television viewers around the world. When he sees his long-thought-to-be dead father for a brief moment before being hustled away, Truman knows, suddenly, that all is not as it seems. It's a race as reality dawns on Truman and he tries to escape his "prison" while the media mavens who created him attempt to control what has become a major crisis in "The Truman Show."
"The Truman Show" is not going to attract the Jim Carrey fans who love him as "Ace Ventura - Pet Detective." There are no talking asses or spastic physical slapstick pratfalls. There is a cerebral, thought provoking, well-acted story that pokes enormous satiric fun at the media and entertainment industries - and us, the viewer.
Jim Carrey is best known as the rubber-faced comedian, but he is, first, an actor. Peter Weir uses this acting ability to garner a solid performance from the comedy star. Playing Truman almost straight, Carrey depicts a man whose 30 year stay on earth is suddenly, abruptly altered with the resurrection of his dead dad. Truman unfolds the reality of his life as he learns more and more of what is really happening around him.
"The Truman Show" takes the concept of unreality, explored in last year's Michael Douglas film "The Game," and brings it to new heights. Where in "The Game" reality is speculative and may or may not be what it seems, "The Truman Show" delves into a world where nothing is real - except Truman. The brief encounter with his "father" changes the course of Truman's life. Suddenly, the Truman Show is in crisis and Truman wants out of the world's biggest set.
Peter Weir, leading an exemplary team of talented individuals both in front of and behind the camera, shows a strong hand in controlling what could have been an out of control effort. Weir utilizes his and his capable crew's abilities to depict Truman's false world, following the man through his fake life. As reality starts to intrude into Truman's world, the cracks in the facade are beautifully handled. Weir displays a master's hand as he subtly shows Truman's life change before our eyes. The set design and photography are up to snuff with the story and complement it to perfection.
The original screenplay by Andrew Niccol ("Gattica") is just that - a true original.
Ed Harris as Christof, the Truman Show director and surrogate father to its unknowing star, leads the vast crew of talented supporting actors who bring to life the world within a world. The rest of the cast, including Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich and Natascha McElhone, all give solid character performances that compliment Carrey's efforts perfectly.
"The Truman Show" is a brilliant flick with a remarkable performance by Carrey coupled to a fascinating story, a first-class cast and top-notch technical credits. I think I've seen an A movie.
There are three distinct moments of crisis for "The Truman Show," when Truman begins to suspect that there's something abnormal about his existance. As a child, Truman's 'father' is lost at sea in order to install a psychological fear of the ocean. As a young adult, Truman isn't drawn to the woman who's been chosen as his mate (Laura Linney, "Absolute Power"), but to Lauren (Natascha McElhone, "Mrs. Dalloway"). Lauren defies strict orders to rebuff Truman, and is physically removed from Truman's arms by her false father, who declares her a schizophrenic. Both Truman's false dad and Lauren have different motivations for attempting to break back into Truman's life - his dad upset from being removed from the cast and Lauren as a moral crusader.
Truman does marry Linney on the rebound and she's a plastic, cheerful walking pitchman (all the product placements are hilariously obvious, as are such things as nighttime light sources and falsified weather conditions). Truman's best friend since childhood is creepily believable as he tries to reassure Truman. Jim Carrey uses just the right amount of perky mugging for the disguised cameras always around him to seem like a sitcom star, even though he's an inadvertent one. He even uses a standard catchphrase to greet his cheerful neighbors each morning as they array themselves in front of their gate daily in true sitcom fashion.
The script, by Andrew Niccol, is a perfect piece of writing. The score is also notable, playing against the onscreen comedy with serious dramatic composition. Art direction and costume underscore the too-perfectness of Seahaven and its denizens. One outstanding set has Ed Harris and his crew observing the action from high above their set, stationed behind Seahaven's sky. Harris' Godlike tendencies are underscored when he walks behind the illuminated moon.
Peter Weir conducts all the elements with masterful direction so that they all add up to one fully satisfying whole. "The Truman Show" is a great movie.
KURT AND COURTNEY
British documentarian Nick Broomfield, who's tackled Hollywood's sleaze trade with "Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam" and serial killing in "Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer" comes up against his biggest adversary yet in shooting "Kurt and Courtney." Broomfield set out to make a film about the late Kurt Cobain and was surprised that his odyssey led him to conspiracy theories that Kurt was murdered and that his wife, Courtney Love, either had a hand in it or drove him to suicide. Courtney's threats, first over song rights, caused his film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival to be withdrawn. Further lawyerly threats of libel didn't stop a premiere in San Francisco, however, and now the film is getting national distribution.
Part loving reminiscenses of Nirvana lead Kurt Cobain, part scathing indictment of Courtney Love and part egotistical presentation of its filmmaker, "Kurt and Courtney" is an entertainingly sentasionalist mishmash of a documentary. However, he film's flaws can't keep it from drawing in the viewer.
"Kurt and Courtney" isn't so much about what its title would suggest as it is about Broomfield's encountering one obstacle after another in attempting to tell his tale, especially after he begins talking to people who have nothing good to say about Love. First his Showtime funding is pulled (Showtime is owned by Viacom, which also owns MTV as well as Courtney's band Hole's record label). Still backed by the BBC, Broomfield's film ends up petering out nonetheless. Then he was denied use of Cobain and Love's music rights which he editted out of the theatrical film. A documentary about Kurt Cobain containing none of his music is an oddity indeed and the film is hurt by its lack. Broomfield, who oddly resembles the conspiracy giant Oliver Stone, feels the need to include his travails in the documentary and a little of this goes a long way.
Nonetheless, Broomfield's parade of freaks is fascinating stuff. We're treated to the rantings of one of Courtney's ex-boyfriends, a local Northwest rocker who she tried to bring to stardom before latching onto Cobain. He's hilarious telling us about how he first met Courtney, who threw a drink in his face and proceeded to rip apart his image with a fake English accent. Escalating the weirdness is Courtney's biological dad, Hank Harrison, who clearly regards his daughter with nothing but greed and an excuse to get into the limelight. He's written two books about Cobain's demise and believes Cobain was murdered, although he only suggests Courtney was involved. We can see where she got her nutsy temperment from. Oddly, her dad unwittingly provides the only audience sympathy for Courtney when he relates how he disciplined her by terrorizing her with his pit bulls.
More strangeness is introduced when Broomfield allies himself with a pair of totally inept, self proclaimed 'stalkerazzi' who manage to gain entrance to Courtney's recording studio only to have their videocamera battery run out at the crucial moment. They guide Broomfield to El Duce, a pathetic shock-rocker who claims Love offered him $50,000 to whack Cobain, but only realized she was serious after Cobain turned up dead. A former nanny, so afraid of repurcussions she has to drink all night before talking to the camera, tells us that a controlling Courtney was preoccupied by Kurt's will in the weeks before his death. Even Kurt's best friend, obviously drugged out during his interview, is frustratingly reluctant to talk.
The film has a few uplifting moments, mostly provided by Kurt's glowing Aunt Mary, whose obvious love for her nephew is touching. She treats Broomfield to some audio recordings of star-in-the-making Kurt at the age of two. An ex-girlfriend of Kurt's speaks of his sense of humor and fun and shows us his enigmatically dark artwork. An interview with Cobain himself shows us the rocker apparently happy with life and in love with his wife, although Broomfield doesn't give us a timeline to place this in (Hank Harrison insists it was a well known fact that the couple were to divorce).
The private detective Courtney hired to find Cobain after his last 'escape' from a rehab center is positive that he was murdered. He backs up his claims by stating that the gun had no fingerprints (although Broomfield never speaks to police or a forensic specialist), that the suicide note was really a farewell to fans before his plan to leave the music business, and the fact that Kurt's best friend twice deliberately steered him away from the greenhouse over the garage where Cobain's body was when searching the rocker's home. He accuses Love of hiring him to prove that she was doing everything she could to save Kurt.
The film wraps up at an ACLU awards banquet, where, ironically, Love makes a speech about the importance of free speech. While Broomfield and his pathetic stalkerazzi have the chance to speak to Love beforehand, all three chicken out from asking her any probing questions. Broomfield later takes to the stage during the ceremony to denounce Courtney as a speaker because she threatens journalists and is dragged off the stage.
Broomfield does state that he disbelieves the conspiracy theories after meandering all around them. While the audience is frustrated by the number of questions raised that are not answered, they've been given a thought provoking view on the tragedy of Kurt Cobain's death, and life.
Mike Broomfield's documentary on the conspiracy theory surrounding the death of grunge rock star Kurt Cobain, "Kurt and Courtney" is an incomplete film. The sum of the parts is, quite simply, greater than the whole. Pieces of the documentary - interviews with Cobain's aunt Mary reminiscing about her dead nephew, with Courtney Love's estranged father (Hank Harrison, author of the book, "Who Killed Kurt Cobain?"), with El Duce, leader of the band The Mentors and the man who Courtney Love reportedly offered $50,000 to "whack" Kurt Cobain, and an interview ambush attempt on Love to get her to talk about her deceased husband - are riveting to watch.
The problem with "Kurt and Courtney" stems from the intrusion by its maker, Broomfield. During the course of making the documentary, it is made plain that there were funding and distribution problems impacting the production. Far too much of the film time is spent watching Broomfield on the phone trying to find out why he is suddenly facing these troubles. The implication he makes, with his personal intrusion into the film, is that Courtney Love used her powers to thwart the filmmaker from uncovering the truth about Cobain's death and her involvement in it. By placing himself as the film's focus, he distracts from the plausible theories he puts forth about Cobain's death.
Back to the interesting bits mentioned above: Broomfield shows a real talent in getting his subjects to speak their minds. Cobain's Aunt Mary obviously loved and idolized him, providing some touching insight into his youth and an inkling of the troubled mind that just could have committed suicide. The several interviews conducted with Love's father are a trip into a dysfunctional father/daughter relationship with dad stressing his commitment to tough love for his child while telling how he used a pitbull to put fear into a young Courtney - he is a very strange man who sounds remarkably sane. The conversation with El Duce is the most blatant indictment against Love and her involvement in Kurt's death. The shock rocker is, however, a loony tune of a witness, pushing any credibility over the edge. Interviews with Love are eerie in showing her thorough intensity and control. She, alone, lays real credence to the possibility that she just might be capable of having Cobain killed.
I appreciate the difficulties Mike Broomfield had in making this film. But including his problems as a linchpin in building a conspiracy theory involving Courtney Love detracted from the film's interesting focus. I didn't learn too much about Cobain, but got a fascinating insight into the mind of Love.
I give "Kurt and Courtney" a B- because of the sum of its parts, not the whole.
Based on one of China's most popular legends, "Mulan" tells the personal story of a young woman who, faced with her invalid father being drafted into the Emperor's army to ward off the invading Huns, throws caution to the wind as she replaces her revered dad in hopes of saving his life and honor in the face of the barbarian invasion.
"Mulan", as a major Disney feature, falls a little short of its recent predecessors, the brilliant "Beauty and the Beast" and the highly crafted and literary "Hunchback of Notre Dame." Those film are the epitome of the studio's fantasy filmmaking abilities and craftmanship. "Mulan" strikes a different path than these other works, affecting things in a far simpler manner than we've seen in the animation giant's other recent works.
Mulan is a strong willed, intelligent and resourceful young lady, who is willing to risk her life to save her beloved father's life and his all important honor. By taking her father's place and pretending to be a soldier in the Emperor's army, she also faces dishonor and, possibly, death for her charade. Mulan, with her bravery, intellect and humor make her a terrific roll model for the girls in the audience. The underlying theme of a woman succeeding in a man's world is positive reinforcement for its target audience.
The story and its execution are uncomplicated as Mulan goes through her G.I. Jane training, being picked on by her fellow soldiers, becoming a fighting "man," (and, developing a crush on her handsome young commander, Captain Shang.) Her impersonation has disturbed the spirits of Mulan's ancestors, who agree to send a powerful dragon to assist their last progeny in her quest. This is where "Mulan" takes its turn from girl flick to solid family entertainment. Enter Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, as a diminutive dragon who cons his way into being Mulan's mentor and confidant, unbeknownst to the ghoghostly ancestors.
Murphy and Mushu's animators combine comic and artistic talent to turn out one of the funniest Disney characters since Robin Williams as the genie in "Aladdin." Mushu is a self-assured little guy and is the only speaking critter in the lot. He is ably assisted by Mulan's goodluck cricket Cri-Kee and her faithful horse, Khan.
The one thing that hurts Mulan is its failure to present a good bad guy. Shan-Yu, the ruthless leader of the invading Huns, has no character or personality, besides being a mean sonuvabitch. This lack gives the film an off-balance feel.
Animation is stylized but simple overall. A couple of movie rush sequences showcase Disney's dedication to dazzle the eye with animation excellence. One, where the Huns rush en masse down a snow covered mountain, is like the best of a John Ford western.
"Mulan" continues Disney's dominance of the animation field with its solid, assured story-telling, good main and supporting characters and superior craftsmanship. I give it an A-.
Disney once again proves they're unbeatable when it comes to animation with "Mulan," a story that will please both young girls with its strong and heroic female lead and young boys with its astounding battle sequences. The film is beautifully animated, incorporating Chinese art, visual humor, and action scenes so striking they recall the films of Akira Kurosawa and Sergei Eisenstein.
Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen of "The Joy Luck Club") is a strong-willed young woman who decides to impersonate a young man to enter the Chinese Imperial Army to protect her beloved father, a wounded war veteran. As the gender deceit is an act punishable by death, as well as one which would bring dishonor on the family name should she be discovered, prayers to her dead ancestors result in delivering a dragon, Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy), who also needs to prove himself. Murphy is simply hilarious as Mushu and can stand alongside the very best Disney sidekicks - he's a real scene stealer. Mulan also has a cricket, albeit not Jiminy, a Chinese symbol of luck, who, of course, happens to be unlucky, doubly proven when he becomes the unwitting, but always charming, partner of Mushu's hijinks. Mulan's horse adds to the comedy with his disdainful reactions to Mushu and her little dog, while left out of most of the action when he remains at home, has a couple of funny scenes as well (feeding chickens!).
"Mulan" has all the stock Disney elements - outstanding animation which reflects its source material, a strong female lead who employs brains over brawn, a dashing love interest (Shang, the Captain of Mulan's unit voiced by B.D. Wong), a comical trio of soldiers, a seemingly invincible villain (Shan-Yu, voiced menacingly by Miguel Ferrer), cute animal characters, five new songs and a score by 17-time Oscar nominee Jerry Goldsmith.
"Mulan" comes up short with its villain, an important component of the real Disney masterpieces. While forbiddingly evil in appearance and voice, Shan-Yu's character is never developed and his motivation is rather flat. His animal counterpart, a sinister falcon, is played straight and not given voice. The songs aren't particularly memorable, but play well within their context in the film.
"Mulan" is a delight however, both in it's serious and comic themes. While not reaching the highest pantheons of Disney's animated features, such as "Beauty and the Beast," can stand alongside such gems as "The Little Mermaid."
CAN'T HARDLY WAIT
Recalling such 24-hours-at-the-end-of-high-school films as "American Graffiti," "Dazed and Confused" and "Suburbia, "Can't Hardly Wait" takes place from the Huntington Hills High graduation ceremony, through the riotous all night party which follows, to the aftermath of the next morning. Ethan Embry ("That Thing You Do!") is nice guy Preston, who's carried a torch for Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and TV's "Party of Five") for the past four years. Amanda's just broken up with High School football jock and all around jerk Mike (Tom Cruise lookalike Peter Facinelli). Preston's dragged along long time friend Denise (Lauren Ambrose, "In and Out"), the school outsider, to the party. Wannabe hip hop homey Kenny (Seth Green, "Austin Powers") is looking for love and class valedictorian and nerd William (Charlie Kormo, "Hook") is plotting an elaborate revenge against long time tormentor Mike.
"Can't Hardly Wait" is another summer retread spruced up with a cast aimed at the "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" demographic. While the story's mostly predictable, the cast is mostly appealing and the film has its moments.
Ostensible star Love Hewitt is the least appealing of the cast. While pleasant enough on the eye, she gives a dour performance with no spark. Ethan Embry is appealing in a puppy dog like way, but his character is undercut by his single-minded desire to hook up with the pretty, but opaque Love Hewitt. He does have one fun scene with Jenna Elfmann, a stripper clad as an angel (recalling Suzanne Sommers' cameo in "American Graffiti") who thwarts his 2 a.m. telephone call to Barry Manilow at a pay phone.
The supporting cast provides what pleasures the movie has to offer. Charlie Korsmo (who *really* is an M.I.T. physics major with a 4.0 grade average) has lots of fun as the nerd who's plot gets derailed as his first experience with alcohol propells him to a rock star-like mystique. Seth Green is a hoot as the kid who's forgotten he's not really black carrying around a knapsack full of lovemaking accessories. In the film's most interesting pairing, he ends up locked in a bathroom with Denise, whose accusations of his desire for cool overriding the importance of their grade school friendship strike home and result in his stripping of his facade. Peter Facinelli is perfect as the jock who's trying to convince his dumb, blindly adoring sidekicks to ditch their girlfriends. He realizes he's made a mistake when he's paid a visit by the last legendary football star (Jerry O'Donnell of "Scream 2," already such an 'icon' that his role is uncreditted?) who advises him to hang onto his high school sweetheart. (This scene recalls the washed up jock played by Matthew McConnaughy in "Dazed and Confused.")
Also in the background are 'Yearbook Girl' (Melissa Joan Hart of TV's "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch") whose high school spirit is ignored by the partygoers. The live band Loveburger, whose hilarious infighting would suggest the split of chart topping band rather than one playing their first gig never actually get around to playing, although they do make up and suggest a 'reunion.'
"Can't Hardly Wait" is a light trifle, but more effort has been put into this film than is the usual case for this type of outing.
After seeing "Can't Hardly Wait," I have to advise that you really should. Wait, that is. This a completely derivative teen party flick that takes, even steals, from the likes of "Animal House," "Dazed and Confused," "House Party," and "American Graffiti," offering no originality to the genre.
Writing/directing team Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont ("A Very Brady Sequel," "Jingle All The Way") do a by-the-numbers teen blowout/coming of age/falling in love film that is mildly amusing but lacks any real wit or intelligence. I have to admit, though, one scene with two stoners discussing Velma from Scooby-Doo had me laughing. Not much else did.
Jennifer Love Hewitt ("I Know What You Did Last Summer" and its upcoming sequel), the film's de facto star, is showcased to show off her prettiness, certainly not her acting. The rest of the main cast - Ethan Embry ("Dutch"), Charlie Korsmo ("The Doctor"), Lauren Ambrose ("In & Out"), Peter Facinelli ("Foxfire"), a Tom Cruise clone, and Seth Green ("Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery") in an annoying performance - are unaffecting, though not awful. There just isn't any sparkle inany of the lead perfs.
The party itself is really rather benign, with kids getting drunk, being a little destructive, and, when applicable, practicing safe sex. The hijinx are certainly not over the top. All in all, it is pretty PC, offering nothing new. I give "Can't Hardly Wait" a C.
SIX DAYS SEVEN NIGHTS
Robin Monroe (Anne Heche), a hard driving glamour mag editor from New York, is on a dream vacation in a South Pacific paradise with her brand new fiance, Frank Martin (David Schwimmer), when a publishing emergency requires Robin to get to Tahiti A.S.A.P. to oversee a high profile photo shoot. Guaranteed the whole trip will take only 18 hours, she seeks out the aid of a gruff cargo pilot named Quinn Harris (Harrison Ford) and bribes him to take her on the supposedly short trip. An unexpected storm surrounds the duo in Harris' aging plane, causing them to crash on a deserted island with no way to call for help. This begins the adventures of Robin and Quinn in director Ivan Reitman's "6 Days, 7 Nights."
Reitman and company have put together a nicely crafted little movie with a positive chemistry between the stars, good tech credits, and little in the way of script. The lightweight story by Michael Browning pays homage to such films as "Romancing the Stone" and, especially, the John Huston classic, "The Africa Queen," with more than an indirect reference to Bogie's Charlie Allnut and Hepburn's Rose Sayer repairing the Queen with innovation, intelligence and determination. The screenplay for "6 Days"" doesn't have the depth of story that complemented those other films. The shallow writing depends on its stars to give the nuance the story needs.
Ford and Heche are one of the best movie couples to hit the screen this year. Their repartee and budding affection are reminiscent of my beloved Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in the Huston classic. I wonder what "6 Days" would have been like with a script akin to "The Africa Queen."
David Scwhimmer is under utilized as the concerned fiance. Jacqueline Obradors' Angelica, Quinn's friend and sometimes companion, is a perky little bombshell. She doesn't have a heck of a lot to do, but looks darn good doing it. Temeura Morrison, who made a powerful US debut as a dysfunctional Maori tribesman in modern day New Zealand in the 1994 film "Once Were Warriors," is wasted as a nouveau pirate leader who happens to come across Quinn and Robin on their deserted paradise.
All the tech bits are, as one would expect in an Ivan Reitman film, top notch. A three month shoot on Kauai, Hawaii, cannot be a hard thing to take and contributes to the relaxed feel of the whole production.
"6 Days, 7 Nights" will pull in some attention at the theaters but will play better on video. The aim is high but doesn't quite hit its mark. Nice chemistry, though. I give it a B-.
"Six Days Seven Nights," directed by Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters"), will be familiar to anyone who's seen such films as the 70's Italian film "Swept Away," "The African Queen" or "Romancing the Stone." While the subject matter is trite, it is still delightful summer entertainment due to its sparkling leads, Harrison Ford and Anne Heche, and its location photography.
The real relevation here is Heche whose comic abilities recall such greats as Carole Lombard. She's Robin Monroe, a NYC fashion magazine editor on a romantic trip to a Polynesian island arranged by new fiance Frank (David Schwimmer of TV's Friends). They meet their salty charter captain Quinn Harris (Ford) on the last leg of their trip. When Monroe's begged by her boss to handle an emergency fashion shoot on nearby Tahiti, she's forced to bribe Quinn for his pilot services. They run into an unforeseen storm and Heche begins downing Xanax to calm her nerves. She's marvelous singing and rambling giddily as the danger escalates and ultimately climaxes with a crash landing on a desertted island.
Ford obviously enjoys his role and the hard drinking, wry Quinn who at first views his passenger as a flightly pain in the neck. Ford also got to indulge one of his passions during the shoot - flying. External shots of Ford flying the DeHavilland Beaver are real. Ford also insisted in adding a scene to deal with the fact that he's twice Heche's age ('You deserve someone fresher') which charmingly adds to the differences which make them such a delightful couple.
The two deal with wild pigs, water snakes, finding food and even pirates ("Pirates as in 'argh?' proclaims Heche with drop dead timing) as their mutual attraction grows stronger. Meanwhile Schwimmer's character, involved in a search with Quinn's loose local honey, shows his real colors when he can't turn down her offer of a one night stand. (This character development, while inevitable, is also somewhat inexplicable as he's introduced as an incureable romantic.)
"Six Days Seven Nights" is rote romantic comedy in script and direction brought to a higher level by an old pro and a new star.
An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, "Beyond Silence" is a coming of age tale with a twist - it's protagonist, Lara, is a hearing child with deaf parents. Lara's mother is a saintly, free-spiritted optimist, but her father is full of rage, born of a strict father who refused to allow sign language into his family and a hearing sister who's a gifted clarinetist. When Lara's barren Aunt Clara encourages her to pursue music, a tremendous family rift attains new levels.
"Beyond Silence," a German film directed by Caroline Link, is a beautifully crafted work which works on many levels. Young Tatjana Trieb, a non-actor, portrays Lara at 8, and she's very self-assured with her twinkly pixiesh eyes and mop of curly blond hair. Her parents, Martin (Howie Seago) and Kai (Emmanuelle Laborit) rely on Lara as their interpreter for meetings with loan officers and her own school teachers. Lara amusingly tailors these conversations to suit her needs. She sits under the TV to sign sappy love movies to her rapt mom, treats her new baby sister to a blast from her clarinet to check that her sister can hear, and delights her dad by describing the cloak of silence created by new fallen snow.
When Martin's family gathers, however, this blissful world becomes tense. In flashbacks we learn that his proud dad staged an important clarinet recital for Clara, and was infuriated when Martin disruptted the event by breaking out into gales of laughter because his only interpretation of the scene was that his sister was making funny faces. Martin's mother reflects that her if only her husband hadn't been so pigbrained, her hands could 'fly around' with the sign language she finds Lara so skilled in. Clara is a manipulator who resents her mother's favoritism for Martin and whose influence over his daughter enrages Martin. Martin perceives Clara as having everything and wanting to take his beloved daughter from him. His bitterness towards Clara causes him to reject his daughter's love of music as a rebellious act against him.
Sylvie Testud (who resembles a blond Sara Gilbert) steps in to play Lara at 18. She goes to live with Clara in Berlin in order to prepare for her entrance audition to the Berlin Conservatory of Music, and finds love with a schoolteacher of deaf children. She also witnesses the breakdown of her Aunt Clara and Uncle Gregor's marriage and comes to see her aunt's true nature.
The ensemble cast are all terrific. It's interesting to learn that sign language isn't universal. The deaf Emmanuelle Laborit and Howie Seago had to learn German sign language for the film, as they used the French and American versions. Technically, the film is top notch, nicely contrasting the Bavarian and Berlin locations. The use of nature (ice, snow, thunder and lightning, sunrise) to relay the importance of sound is a nice contrast to the more obvious musical theme.
"Beyond Silence" sidesteps the 'TV movie of the week' pitfall its subject matter could easily have levelled it with and instead presents a moving portrait of a family who learns that communication, by whatever means, is the essence of understanding.
"Beyond Silence," as the German nominee for Oscar's Best Foreign Film, is a treat. It is intelligent, thought-provoking and, with its treatment of the plight of the deaf in the hearing world, a learning experience.
The film is in two parts, with part one dominated by 8-year old Lara (Tatjana Trieb), a clever little girl who, from when she first learned to read, has acted as translator for her deaf parents, Martin (Howie Seago) and Kai (a luminous Emmanuelle Laborit). She oftentimes uses her exalted translator status to her own benefit, coloring her translations to her own advantage when necessary. Trieb gives such a good performance, when the film jumps 10 years ahead - with Trieb replaced by Sylvie Testud as the older Lara - I was disappointed that the story did not continue with the young Lara.
To the film's advantage, it recovers from this lapse as part two opens up to the other important characters. Lara's father, Martin, grows and changes as he copes with dealing with the hearing world as he learns to understand his eldest daughters need and desire to follow her music. Her mother, Kai, is Madonna-like (the Christian icon, not the other one) in her presence and composure, able to smooth the frustration Martin often feels over his daughter. Lara's childless aunt, Clarissa (Sibylle Canonica), vies with Martin for the young woman's affection, bribing her with the charm of music and the excitement of Berlin and creating a rift between father and daughter.
The story includes many interludes where the two worlds, hearing and deaf, come together. A charming scene has Lara's mom watching a movie on TV with the girl assigned the task of translating the actors' words to Sign Language. Director Caroline Link carries such scenes through the film so you get a feel for the day-to-day life in such a challenged household.
The film's clarinet score is unusual and entertaining with some nice musical interludes.
"Beyond Silence" is a beautifully crafted and acted film done with a strong sense of integrity in depicting the silent world in ways beyond, say, "Children of a Lesser God." I give it a B+.
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