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