There are few directors who have as an eclectic resume as Sally Potter.
 First gaining notice in 1992 for her fascinating, handsomely wrought screen
 adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel
ORLANDO, Potter has gone on to make
 idiosyncratic films like 1997's semi-autobiographical
THE TANGO LESSON and
 her latest
THE MAN WHO CRIED. While no one will mistake the latter for a
 masterpiece, it possesses an oddball charm that makes it almost a guilty
 pleasure to enjoy. In many ways her film is a throwback to the old-fashioned
 "women's pictures" that were in vogue in the 1920s, 30s and 40s; perhaps not
 ironically as that time is the principal setting for the film.

         Potter opens the movie with the sight of a young woman
 (played by Christina Ricci) bobbing in the ocean surrounded by flaming
 wreckage. It's a nightmarish scenario that immediately plunges the
 audience into the story. The writer-director then flashes back some
 twenty years to when the girl was a seemingly happy child in Russia
 (played by the extraordinary child Claudia Lander-Duke) doted on by
 her father. This almost Edenic sequence (beautifully rendered in
 painterly hues by director of photography Sacha Vierney) gives way
 to the first of several traumas the young girl will experience. Her father
 leaves for America with the promise of a quick reunion. A pogrom led
 by the Cossacks, however, tears the girl from her home and she's left
 only with a photograph of her father as she wanders through the
 countryside. Eventually, she is "rescued" and repatriated to England
 where she is dubbed Suzie and forced to learn a foreign language. Her
 adoptive family are stern and unsupportive. At school, Suzie shows
 unusual promise as a singer and is encouraged to pursue a career.

         As a young adult (now incarnated by Ricci), she heads to Paris
 to seek fame and fortune, but lands instead in the chorus of an
 opera company run by an American (Harry Dean Stanton, virtually
 wasted in the role) who tries to control Dante (John Turturro), its
 egotistical star attraction. Suzie is befriended by a Russian dancer
 (Cate Blanchett) who aspires to a more luxurious life (achieved via
 an affair with Dante) and is drawn to Cesar (Johnny Depp), an
 enigmatic Gypsy horse wrangler.

         Potter's background in music and art is evidenced in her work
 as a filmmaker. Whatever else one can say about her films, they
 are always visually impressive and often feature a pleasing soundtrack.
 With
THE MAN WHO CRIED Potter has attempted in her own manner
 to reinvent the movie musical. While not strictly a film in which
 characters burst into song,
THE MAN WHO CRIED is built around
 musical performers and her judicious deployment of various styles
 (Italian opera, Yiddish folk music, Gypsy songs) provide a lilting backdrop
 for the events unfolding on screen.

         Under her direction, the performers, however, don't always rise
 to the same level. In this case, each of the leading characters is
 employing a different accent, sometimes with unintentionally humorous
 results. Ricci at times resembles a Keane figure come to life whereas in
 other scenes she is absolutely gorgeous. She acquits herself in what
 is basically a passive role; Suzie is more observer than participant.
 Depp cuts a dashing figure as always but after playing a similar role in
 
CHOCOLAT there is little new he brings to this part. (He and Ricci
 do generate the requisite heat in their love scenes, something that
 was missing in their previous pairing in
SLEEPY HOLLOW.) Blanchett
 occasionally falters in her thick pseudo-Russian accent, but she's always
 such a vibrant screen presence that one wants to forgive her. Her
 mercenary dancer who later proves to have the proverbial heart of
 gold is an intriguing character and one who could easily be the
 protagonist in a separate film. Turturro is miscast as the petulant
 opera star, a male diva, if you will, and his affair with Blanchett's
 character doesn't quite ring true.

         While
THE MAN WHO CRIED has the feel of a sweeping
 historical epic, it clearly suffered from a lack of budget. In focusing
 the story on the people rather than the trappings of the period, Potter
 manages to fashion a thought-provoking if not entirely successful
 look at a dark and chilling time in the not too distant past. The
 tacked-on happy ending may have made emotional sense but it
 unfortunately comes across as unimaginative and robs the film of
 some of its power.


                         
Rating:                C+
                         
MPAA Rating:       R for sexuality        
                         
Running time:      100 mins.
The Man Who Cried
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.