CRITICS OVER COFFEE
WARNING: Frequent Spoilers Ahead
The resident critics of Cozzi Fan Tutti conducted
this après-screening discussion of CHARLOTTE GRAY less than ten
minutes after seeing the film, over nice hot coffee in a sparsely crowded
coffee shop across the street from the more densely packed Starbucks).
It was winter, finally, and mere days before the end of 2001.
G: Okay, what did you think?
G: I thought this was very, very good.
J: It was suspenseful. Great acting.
It was great except for the beginning. I thought the exposition was weak,
prior to her going into training and getting to France. I thought the
romance with the guy was a little trite and cliché. But boy, when
it moved into France, and the cinematography just opened up to take in
that beautiful landscape...heaven. And Cate Blanchett seemed to really
come alive and hit her stride. You know, I think she’s best when
she’s playing women with ‘inner strength.’ Like Elizabeth,
or even her role in The Shipping News. She’s not as sure-footed
when she’s supposed to be a weak, dainty thing.
J: The movie is a two-hour love affair with Cate Blanchett's
J: …in soft focus, with the hat just so, over the face and that last shot of her glove…
G: Is there any actress working today that you’d rather see doing that kind of role? She can be so expressive. How did you feel about the Jewish children?
J: It seemed to me that they were placed in the screenplay
rather gratuitously. It created some giant plot holes, because I gather
that the old woman, who they left the children with...they called her
J: So I had the impression that she was Levarde's
[Michael Gambon’s character] mother. In which case, if he was Jewish
by virtue of his grandparents being Jewish, why wasn’t she?
The Jewish angle has been done very well -- elsewhere. Here it was kind
of arbitrarily thrown in for "human interest". The whole business
where he’s [the Michael Gambon character] on the train those
trains were actually packed. They packed people onto these trains like
cattle. In this movie, that was a very empty, very civilized train. If
you’re going to do this, do it right.
J: She directed Oscar and Lucinda, right? [Gabriel
nods.] Thought so. I can’t really speak to her very much, because
I didn’t care for Oscar and Lucinda…mostly because
I couldn’t stand Ralph Fiennes. But I thought CHARLOTTE GRAY
was beautifully filmed. It was leisurely paced I think it ran a
little longer than it had to. I thought the subplot with the lecherous
collaborator teacher was gratuitous…
G: But it was something I’d never really thought about, how anti-Semitism during the war might have been used by people to circumvent social decency and social mores. That was an interesting idea it seemed an especially sinister use of anti-Semitic belief. Not to say that concentration camps weren’t sinister, but it was, I don’t know, a more refined form of bigotry.
J: I think it would have worked better if the teacher
had just appeared there out of the blue. It would have driven home the
idea of collaboration. There are some wonderful lines in there about collaboration
that I found very timely that collaboration is the best way to
ensure France’s destiny, and Gray’s opening voiceover speech.
That of course we are going to win, because we are good. This resonated
very clearly for those of us living in John Ashcroft’s Amerikka,
which of course everything is about now, or so it seems sometimes.
That’s the war movie cliché that the enemy guy is
always chicken. There are two bad guy clichés in movies. Number
One is: the enemy is always a bad shot. Number Two is: he’s always
a chicken. The only movie where that doesn’t happen that I can
think of off the top of my head is Saving
Private Ryan where Jeremy Davies is in that house...… That
was a case where the cliché was turned on its ear. But this movie
was a real ‘war movie’ as opposed to a depiction of war
a 1940’s war movie would have had the cop doing that, because
she is the heroine and she, therefore, must triumph. It doesn’t
ring true. But that’s how this kind of movie is done.
J: Well, I knew that the other guy was going to turn out okay.
G: Billy Crudup?
J: No, the other guy, the aviator, Peter (Rupert Penry-Jones).
G: Oh. Well, you have to have him back, don't you?
She has to make the choice between them.
G: I’m not sure why she stayed.
J: That was my Steven Spielberg, I could-have-done-more
moment. That was the Schindler's List Memorial Sledgehammer Moment.
G: Jill Cozzi’s famous Emotional Sledgehammer
G: Climate control, air conditioning
G: I think the whole subplot of the children is poorly
constructed. It seems counterintuitive to a spy in World War II. I mean,
I know they’re trying to show that she has motherly instincts,
I know why it’s in there
G: Well, because a woman should always have motherly
instincts, shouldn’t she? Otherwise she’s a hardened bitch.
Haven’t you ever seen a Sharon Stone movie?
G: Oh, we didn’t even talk about those great
G: I agree.
G: I agree, this is a not a film that’s going to transfer well to video. This is something to see on a big screen.
J: Nor is it going to be as effective at your local small cinema. The problem is, this is a small-theatre story done with big-theatre sound, scope, color
G: Well, the films it’s imitating, from the
1940’s, were made before television was a force in the world. Those
films were never intended to play on a TV set. The filmmakers never thought
about watching this on a tiny box. And I don’t think Gillian Armstrong
is thinking that way, either. I get tired of films that Zoolander
is the most recent example I can think of Zoolander is a
film that should have gone straight to television. It’s built for
television, the jokes are written in television’s rhythms. But
CHARLOTTE GRAY is not built for you to watch at home on a video,
or even on a DVD.
J: Dark does not help…unless you’re
British. Watching Gosford
Park, though and this guy does not float my boat, mind
you you realize that Clive Owen is a star.
J: Better than Pierce Brosnan. Bond is supposed to
be dark; Bond likes to kill. Brosnan wouldn't want to get his hands dirty.
But Clive Owen is a movie star, he just leaps off the screen, leaps off
the screen. But Crudup, as good as he is, can come across as somewhat
bland. He’s fades off into the background, you almost don’t
notice him. He’s very low-key. He’s a terrific performer,
but it’s like he’s always the enigmatic one…
J: Oh, he is, but he’s not flashy.
J: All right, let's wrap this up.
J: Good enough for me.
- Jill Cozzi and Gabriel Shanks
|Review text copyright © 2001 Jill Cozzi, Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.|