Sunday, May 31, 2009

Simone Signoret, in Ship of Fools
approximately 25 minutes and 18 seconds
17.8% of the film

The film

Passengers on a ship traveling from Mexico to Germany in the 1930s represent society at large in that era.
You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

It’s an ensemble piece that doesn’t exactly rise to the greatness of the book. However, you’ve got lots of stars and 3 great performances.
Simone Signoret as La condesa
Mainly, this performance has 2 things going on for her: a fabulous entrance for the character and the fact that it’s one of the briefest performances ever nominated in this category. It’s got to be: you can see the countess on screen for just 17.8% (!!!) of the film, so she could’ve easily been voted in the supporting category. Despite the limited screentime, it’s a memorable performance, easily one of the best of the film.

But who does Simone Signoret play? She’s La condesa (The Countess, in English; her name is not mentioned in the film), a rich woman held under arrest, being transported from South America to Europe; she’s a big believer in the freedom of the people and I’m not sure if the films tries to portray her as someone with socialist ideas. On the ship, she has a romance with the ship’s doctor (an excellent performance by Oskar Werner).

She makes her big entrance 15 minutes into the film, appearing like a larger than life person, a high society lady, it’s an entrance worthy of a queen. However, as we get a closer look at her, we discover that she’s a normal human being, a kind person, a tired woman struggling with a drug addiction and rather terrified of what the future holds in store for her.

Simone Signoret uses her acting experience to make the best of the screentime and although the screenplay doesn’t offer her too many big, loud moments she delivers a very sincere performance. Of all the characters from the film (and trust me, there’s lots of them), she the one you feel closest to, because she’s the most interesting, intriguing and dead honest. Simone’s biggest achievement (and smart acting choice) is that she doesn’t look like she’s trying too hard. Her performance is subtle and her lines (sometimes too long or difficult to read) are acted perfectly, with grace and easiness.

Another role for her in the film is to be the love interest of the ship’s doctor, the real leading character. Unexpectedly for me, the romance works! There’s a love story there between two very different people (she’s so chill and direct, he’s so apparently stiff and formal) that share one big thing: loneliness. Though the odds are against them (she’s going to jail in Spain, he’s going back to his wife in Germany), the love story seems so natural and there’s something pure and likeable seeing them together.

We are recommended however to ask ourselves: does she like him or tries to seduce him just because she wants him to keep giving her the drugs? Even if the question pops up in our mind, we soon realize that’s not true. Yes, the countess is an addict – a classy one :D – but the kindness she shows him is so honest and (almost) maternal, that, despite needing him as a doctor, she really feels attracted to this man. Signoret’s face is so expressive when it comes to showing us sadness or sarcasm. Her eyes tell us about the despair and the loneliness and also the worry that she has for him once she finds out he has an ill heart.

Simone gives a short performance with an essential role in the film: she brings class to it and represents the love interest of the leading man. Though it’s an unusual love story, Signoret puts all the effort in making it look so effortless (!) and natural that you buy it immediately and hope for a happy ending. I have a soft spot for her also because the countess who has nothing left to lose was my favourite character in the book. And she does her justice. It’s great casting and it’s always nice to see an experienced actress giving another solid performance. for her, due to the limited time on screen. A criterion I also use is a nominee’s capacity to carry her own film; she would’ve, had she been given the opportunity.

Husbands. and Wives. and Smackdowners

I had the thrill to participate in another one of Stinkylulu's Supporting Actress Smackdowns. For May, the year was 1992. I was already familiar with the films and the performances, and my #1 choice didn't change upon a 2nd viewing of the films.

To me, two of the performances were excellent, one was good and the other two just merely ok. You should click here to see who was OUR WINNER and find out what I thought of each nominee.

Also, note to myself: I should rewatch all these great Woody Allen films. He really IS one of the best living directors and probably the best screenwriter.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Samantha Eggar, in The Collector
approximately 83 minutes and 39 seconds
71.4% of the film

The film

A man kidnaps a woman and holds her hostage just for the pleasure of having her there.
You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.
It’s an intriguing, not so bad movie with a not so good conclusion. But it was fun and catchy.
Samantha Eggar as Miranda Grey
Why do I always start with the confusing, complicated ones?! After Julie Christie’s, I wanted a clearer, either good or bad performance. What I did stumble upon was an unknown British actress named Samantha Eggar and a performance that starts on the wrong foot but keeps getting better just as the tension and intensity start settling in. And I always soften up upon multiple viewings of the same performance.

Though uncertain about both of them, Samantha Eggar’s performance is in a way the total opposite of Julie Christie’s. When I previously wrote about Julie I said that one of her big accomplishments was that she was so faithful to her character. And this is the biggest problem I have with Samantha’s take on Miranda: she didn’t understand the character, at least not in the first part. It’s a big problem, because the audience depends on you the actor to guide us in discovering and understanding the feelings, desires, thoughts – everything about your character.

To be more precise, I didn’t find her to be terrified enough. And because there were certain shifts in the character’s attitude (at least that’s how I perceived them), it affected the credibility of both the story and the character. Why didn’t she try harder to escape?! Why didn’t she just hit the kidnaper in the head with something? Why was she so relaxed at times and why did she trust him? These are all justified questions, all about the first part of her captivity. Was Samantha misdirected in underplaying the despair of this kidnapped woman? I really can’t tell, but I got the feeling she could’ve done more to increase the credibility of Miranda’s actions.

But oh boy does she get better. Because Samantha has a very expressive (and beautiful) face and, half an hour into the film, when the camera’s on her, we feel like we’re finally seeing something. You can spot the fear in her eyes; you believe her terrified innocence and the hope that Miranda holds on to, the hope that she’ll get out of there alive. It’s not an easy character to play, because it’s all based on the notion of surprise. Samantha must always act like she has no idea what’s gonna come next. It’s a strange situation where the character knows just as much as the audience, so Samantha must always look shocked and be fresh and spontaneous.

Her great movie moments have to do with the idea of what’s gonna happen to her. She’s excellent with powerful lines like I don’t want to die, because we feel her sincerity and her true struggle to live. The moment in the film where she realizes that she will never get out of there alive is really well played and very relevant. And because her face is so expressive (I wish she would’ve also used this talent more in the first part of the film), her constant teary eyes (she would’ve been great doing silent films) tear us apart, making us care and somehow hope for a happy ending. The intense scene involving him dragging her through the rain was crazy suspenseful and dramatic in the end.

It’s a contradictory performance, both simple and subtle. She sometimes plays it with a bit too much elegance and dignity; other times, she’s dead on in capturing emotion and despair. What she fails to do in the beginning proves successful as the story unfolds: she makes us give a damn about this girl held in captivity by an unusual psycho. From a point on, Samantha plays Miranda so well and she’s so expressive and likeable, that I tend to forget the shakiness from the first 20-30 minutes. Just like the film itself, this is an intriguing performance, but way above the material. I give her .

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Julie Christie, in Darling
approximately 86 minutes and 33 seconds
[it doesn’t include the photos/billboards]
71.4% of the film
The film
A beautiful but amoral model sleeps her way to the top of the London fashion scene at the height of the Swinging Sixties.
You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.
What a smart, sarcastic drama. A real film of the 1960s, as it lives up to the standards of the new directorial wave. Excellent direction and a sharp screenplay.
Julie Christie as Diana Scott
It doesn’t happen that often to find a Best Actress performance that confuses me by not respecting the typology that this category implies. Julie Christie in Darling is one of them. I honestly didn't know where to put it; it’s not the question of good or bad, but of good or great. How much does being faithful to the character weights in deciding the ultimate success of a performance? A lot would be the obvious answer; but does it always make it worthy of an Oscar win?

Julie Christie’s Diana is a spoiled brat. She’s gorgeous, she’s a model, she has affairs, lies, victimizes herself and feels like the centre of the universe. However, Diana is quite likeable. Even when she’s lying or cheating there’s something innocent to that, she has a child-like quality, you cannot be angry with her. This is what also makes it a rather light drama, because the director and screenplay know how to keep it fresh & witty and how to tackle the issues of the film without making it grumpy, grim or uncool.

The casting is perfect. It really feels like Julie IS Diana. The role required childish curiosity and to have fun with it. Julie’s face is perfect for that. You sometimes feel like she’s a woman heading for maturity, but for most of the time Julie has to take the mixture of ego and immaturity and bring it to the screen in a way that actually feels believable. And it works. Though it might not seem like the biggest challenge possible, it’s not easy to be dead on and sell it.

One might have the tendency of taking for granted, considering this to be an easy role to play for the most of it. It’s here where I myself get a little bit stuck. Is this performance subtle or obvious? Obvious because her spoiled attitude is visible throughout the entire film or subtle because there’s more to Diana than meets the eye and maybe she does have honest mature feelings hidden behind this wall of superficiality. I honestly don’t have the answer (and I’m happy about that) because the screenplay refuses to go for a conventional ending or clarify the true essence of Diana.

Don’t get me wrong, Diana does have true moments of honesty. The best example is her emotional and physical nakedness in front of the mirror in the Italian palace, after having a breakdown (was that a real profound breakdown or just a spoiled woman getting bored and not receiving what she wants; who knows). But as I’ve just mentioned: all her big dramatic moments can have more than one interpretation.

It’s clear to the viewer that Julie Christie had fun doing this. And that is so good, because Diana is a character that requires you to feel very comfortable in her skin. You need to have confidence when taking such a role, so that you could pull off her self-centred perspective on life. What Julie also does it to bring energy, beauty and most importantly kindness in her eyes. Because of Julie’s charisma and genteelness, Diana doesn’t come off as a cheating slut. That’s a huge plus of Julie’s take on the performance. More so, there are moments when you root for her; not fiery, but still.

Even when she’s desperate (her crying at the end), the screenplay is so built that it’s almost the funniest part of the film. Her reasons for crying are not serious, but any other actress might have given us a dull take without a playful sense to it. What Julie does is making it funny, believable, always remembering the spoiled core of her character, what drives Diana through life and what drives her mad. Those are ambition tears of the spoiled brat she who is not getting what she wants. Delicious and very well played.

Because of some shouting scenes from the second half, we know that Julie Christie had the chops to play Diana differently, in a more high drama way. However, her decision to focus on the lighter side of her character (yet never losing emotion or the interest of the viewer) pays off making it one of the most interesting (maybe even most unusual – judging by the type of character) Best Actress wins ever. I repay her effort with .