Friday, August 22, 2008

Juliette Binoche, Chocolat

It so often happens that a stylish movie (stylish judging by my weird criterion) makes me go way pass the flaws and develop a certain obsession for one or two elements from the film. The scene (frame) that has stayed with me for years will be revealed later. It involves the surprisingly Oscar-nominated performance given by this very beautiful and talented actress…

approximately 55 minutes and 51 seconds
48.4% of the film


A woman and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a small French village that shakes up the rigid morality of the community.

Hell, yeah:
This is not the average Best Picture nominee; or let’s just say it covers the soft / light spot in a Best Picture lineup. The chocolate is a plus :) Same with the art direction, the costume design, the whole look of the film. The music is adequate and Judi Dench gives a very nice supporting performance. It’s a light feel-good movie that I really enjoy.

Oh, no:
Lena Olin had an awful character that threw the movie off-balance. Alfred Molina didn’t impress me either.

Juliette Binoche, as Vianne Rocher

The Good:

I’m shaking things up a bit and starting with a moment towards the ending of the film. This is also the obsession that’s I’ve mentioned before. It’s minute 95 and Vianne is on the pontoon, listening to what the north wind has to say.

It’s a key moment in the film. It suggests that this free-spirited woman is ready to move to another town, it’s a sign from her ancestors that it’s time to go. And there she is: beautiful Juliette Binoche in her stunning 1960s outfit, with the killer red shoes, about to give it all up again.

It’s a quiet scene of intense beauty. Juliette manages to perfectly transmit the determination of the character. I love it.

As the film starts, there’s not much to say about Juliette’s performance as Vianne. She plays it cool, calm, letting the chocolate get all the attention.
There’s a scene where she fights the count, telling him she’s not easily intimidated.

Then Johnny Depp steps in, and she becomes more of a foxy attractive woman, yet still natural, maybe even playful. Vianne is a tough cookie, yet very down to earth and Juliette does a nice job portraying that.
But, there will be tears. In a moment of vulnerability, she admits to her friend that all the adversity from some townspeople takes its toll on her. We love Vianne, her tears of joy or sadness. It’s something that Juliette does with all her characters: she makes them humane, believable and totally likeable.

There’s also an interesting mother - daughter relationship. Vianne is living in denial, as she won’t admit (until this one scene with Johnny’s character) that moving from one town to another has a strong negative effect on her daughter. Another moving scene that Juliette nails perfectly, showing emotion, yet not exaggerating.
The film has a beautiful ending; there’s no twist, but a certain scene comes as a surprise and offers a different conclusion to the story. Vianne is finally able to see the truth lying in front of her.

The Bad & the Ugly:
Nothing. Her low-key performance in the first part is just respecting the screenplay.

I have a weakness for the performance, the character, the look. I don’t know if it’s an Oscar winning performance, but she did exactly what she suppose to do with the given character and the lighter type of movie. YES, Bjork deserved to be nominated instead of her (and also to win), but it’s not Juliette’s fault. I am seriously hesitating between 3 stars or 4, but I think I’ll stay with , trying to be objective and comparing it with the other nominated performances.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Joan Allen, The Contender

Although I’m not an American, I was like Yay for Hillary! You go girl! during her campaign for a nomination. She didn’t make it and that’s too bad, but I’m hoping for the best. While seeing The Contender for the second time, I realized that this is a way better political drama than I remembered it to be. And I was also pleased to look closer at a performance that I once considered forgettable, but perspectives certainly change…

approximately 53 minutes and 51 seconds
45.3% of the film
The Contender
Sexual secrets from a woman's past come to light as she runs for Vice President.
Hell, yeah:
A serious film, with a nice start, sharp writing & strong performances. It has great lines, a political theme, but also funny moments that make it well balanced. At points, it has a very nice West Wing feeling. Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges (great role to play), Sam Elliott and Gary Oldman (always snubbed) are highlights + a good Mariel Hemingway cameo.

Oh, no:
A supporting actress playing a brunette FBI chick; and the last 15 minutes or so, which were a bit cheesy - or maybe just not as good as the rest.

Joan Allen, as Senator Laine Hanson

The Good:
It’s great to see a dignified strong character, a lady but also very down-to-earth and fully knowing the rules of the political game. This is the type of character Laine Hanson is, going from a regular wife and mom to a strong contender with accurate, unshakeable beliefs.

I just loved how natural the character seems to act especially in the beginning of the film. It’s the small details that had me on Joan Allen’s side; and she’s probably been doing this her whole career. It’s a brief look that Laine gives her husband, nervous gestures right before seeing the president, repeating an idea in her mind.
Joan Allen shapes the character in an effortless way. It all looks so genuine, sometimes even improvised. But all done great, the feminist speeches are delivered coherently and Joan keeps the balance, showing a tranquility of the character that often seems its trademark.
Laine has been accused of having a dirty past, yet she’s not gonna talk about it as she considers it to be below her dignity. We may not agree with her tactic of dealing with things, but we keep the strong respect for the character. Joan Allen keeps it right in the middle: she’s not a spoiled bitch running from accusations, but also not a total victim, a defenseless woman.
Unfortunately, things start to get tougher for Senator Laine Hanson. Joan Allen takes smart steps in showing the difficult transition as the character is dealing with more than she wants to handle. It’s not worth it anymore.
I love the scene where we see the first tears. She has an unusual obedience that we hadn’t seen before, but she’s not entirely quitting. She may be giving up the chance for vice-presidency, but she surely won’t give up her beliefs about women’s rights, privacy & all those liberal ideas that in the end feel more important.
Her line reading is perfect and the patriotic speech towards the end: priceless.
The Bad and the Ugly:
Ok, so maybe Jeff Bridges (playing one of the best written president characters I’ve ever seen – finally someone breaking the cliché) steals the scenes in which they’re together, but there’s nothing bad about Joan’s performance.

It’s a great performance from an underrated actress that has lots of talent. Maybe she has done similar work before (Pat Nixon anyone?), but it’s a pleasure to watch her over and over again. She’s an actress with a very natural acting technique and that’s a blessing for the character. The sometimes shaky voice is a great bonus. As I said, I like dignified, respectable characters done the right way, so .

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