Sunday, June 29, 2014

Words and Pictures Fail Us

The under-advertised film Words and Pictures boasts two fine actors on its poster:  Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche. It looked vaguely like a love story between two not-young people, a second-time-around sort of love story. 
Juliette Binoche as artist/teacher Delsanto.  (Photo Credit Roadside Attractions)

Both characters are artists and teachers: she a painter teaching fine arts (Honors class), he a writer teaching English (ditto). They share the same very bright high school students.  They share one more thing:  Each of them is broken.  Jack Marcus (Mr. Owen) and Dina Delsanto (Ms. Binoche) spar over the strengths of their art forms – which becomes a “war” between words and pictures.

He needs a war because he is broken by his disease, alcoholism, which is an immediate threat to his job.

Her disease is rheumatoid arthritis, which keeps her from painting as she used to.  She must recreate herself because her body has betrayed her.

Words and Pictures holds no surprises. Any film with an alcoholic as a main character requires that he hit bottom, which he does. The road to true love never did run smooth, and this one had sinkholes. Still we have confidence that the sparks would not be put out by common sense or guilt or anything else.

While I am not a poet, it seemed odd to me that a literature teacher who chastised his students for researching online instead of using books (which have the advantage of turning the pages, so students can come across odd bits of information as they search through the books to fulfill the assignment) would stare at a computer screen attempting to write a poem. I should think he’d prefer pen or pencil on paper for some tactile connection. (Poets out there, feel free to tell me the medium is irrelevant.) A man staring at a computer screen is no more interesting — rather, less — than a man scribbling by hand, reading, and crumpling the paper.  Yes, it’s a clichéd image, but Words and Pictures is a cliché itself. 

Since Dina’s problem is physical, we can be sure she has a friend to look after her.  We meet Dina’s protective sister Sabine, well played by Janet Kidder. Ms. Kidder even looked something like Ms. Binoche, if a bit harder, which was suitable for her role.  Fellow teacher Walt, who, not surprisingly, appears to be Jack’s only friend, is warmly played by Bruce Davison. A bullied student, Emily, as sweetly played by Valerie Tian, goes from fragile and frightened, to crushed, to a blossoming young woman who can help an adult – Dina – move forward.

The scenes of Dina Delsanto struggling to paint when her body could not do what it had in the past were moving and believable.  Her passion continues despite her body’s deterioration.  Dina Delsanto’s paintings were in fact painted by Ms. Binoche, which is the most interesting part of this movie.

I generally do not try to guess outcomes, preferring stories to unfold themselves on their own terms and in their own time. Yet even I knew where this one was headed, how the romance would be derailed, and pretty much how it would be repaired. (By their students, of course.) This is a pleasant film, but it offers no questions, merely easy answers.

Fred Schepisi’s direction improves Gerald DiPego’s script.  Mr. Schepisi provided interesting views of Ms. Binoche working and struggling to overcome her disability, leading step by step through the character’s changing path.  Unfortunately Mr. DePego’s script did not afford similar opportunities for Mr. Owen’s regrettably stock character.  We’ve all seen far too many scenes of people in AA, although Jack did start off wrong:  not with his name and his addiction, but his profession, illustrating his continuing egotism.  Both director and screenwriter have a long track record, yet this appears like an early effort of an inexperienced writer. 

Despite its good cast, these Words and Pictures just don’t tell us a new story.

~ Molly Matera, signing off to find a better film with any of these actors.

No comments:

Post a Comment