Wednesday, August 24, 2005

My Left Foot

This week a special edition of My Left Foot was released on DVD, an impressive movie that should be on almost everyone’s list. This is Jim Sheridan’s adaptation of the autobiography of Christy Brown, a critically acclaimed Irish painter and writer who suffered severely from cerebral palsy.

The movie earned Daniel Day-Lewis a Best Actor award in 1989 for his portrayal of Brown, and a Best Supporting Actress for Brenda Fricker as his mother. Day-Lewis' performance alone makes this a film worth seeing. Notorious for his complete absorption of his character during filming, he conveys Brown's life with his disease so convincingly that we can feel the frustration and pain of his condition.

But it is Sheridan's writing and directing that distinguish this movie from so many in its genre. He refuses to overplay the sympathy card with Brown's condition, except when it is Brown himself filtering his childhood through his book. Rather, Sheridan gradually reveals a man of extraordinary strengths but often very ordinary weaknesses. Brown's insight, talent and perseverance are inspiring. He learns to paint with his only functional limb, his left foot, and slowly improves his speech by repeatedly reciting Hamlet's soliloquy. But it is his sense of alienation—leading to depression and drink— that remind us that private tragedy often lies behind public victories.

Jim Sheridan (In America) is a sensitive, compassionate chronicler of the Irish people. His movies are steeped in the honor and dignity found among the working-class poor. Christy Brown was born in 1932, one of 13 surviving children raised by a tough bricklayer father and a devoted and encouraging mother (Fricker's Oscar was also well-deserved). The Brown's make up in love and togetherness what they apparently lack in everything else, and don't appear to suffer from sleeping four to a bed or going days with weak porridge and no coal. Sheridan's insight into the lives of these early 20th century Dubliners is every bit as revealing as James Joyce reliving his youth.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Ten Reasons to See Amelie

★ ★ ★ ★ It isn’t often that a movie has so much to offer, so many facets to recommend itself. Amelie is a truly delightful French film with everything going for it. If you haven’t seen it, here are ten reasons to stop by Blockbuster tonight and pick it up:

1. Audrey Tautou’s remarkably enchanting and multi-dimensional performance in this unique and difficult title role. Her alluring and mysterious je ne sais quoi makes a second viewing even better than the first.

2. Two hours of French, with subtitles. Even if you don’t speak a lick, it’s such a graceful and elegant language to listen to. (It would not be nearly as alluring in, say, Finnish, or Yugoslavian.)

3. Absolutely gorgeous, even stunning color palettes—full-bodied reds and greens deliciously contrasted by Tautou’s pale skin and jet-black hair. This is simply an exquisite film to watch.

4. An inspiring tale of kind-hearted virtue expressed in the most inventive and creative ways. Its feel-good charm is buoyed by Amelie’s untainted compassion, which never becomes sappy or heavy-handed.

5. Warm, light-hearted and sometimes laugh-out-loud humor. Jeunet even manages to make the tragedies funny, such as the curious death of Amelie’s mother, who is crushed by a woman’s suicidal fall. (And while on the subject, the suicidal goldfish is also hilarious.)

6. Writer-Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s imaginative script and extraordinarily creative direction. Jeunet dares to take risks, and allows Amelie’s penchant for daydreaming to give license to all sorts of fun and inventive symbols and plot devices, which fortunately work very well within the movie.

7. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s fascinating camera work, with shots that scan, pan and hover in wide, adventurous arcs. One shot of Amelie skipping rocks from a bridge is near genius.

8. Tautou’s waif-like and memorably expressive face; portraying wonder, enlightenment, discovery, surprise, sadness, disappointment, wisdom and humor while barely saying a word.

9. A delightful love story, as Amelie realizes the need to find her own joy and companionship, and does so in the unlikeliest of places. It may be the most unusual courtship in cinema history!

10. One of the gentlest yet most romantic kissing scenes in my experience—all with lips barely parted!