Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Location: milwaukee, wi

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Notes on a Scandal (Richard Eyre, 2006)

One of the films that's making a big buzz this awards season, Notes on a Scandal is a dark, thoroughly pessimistic view of human nature, and the reasons behind love and friendship in general. Cate Blanchett plays Sheba, the magnetic new art teacher at a British school, and Judi Dench is Barbara, the spinsterish old maid of the school, who says of herself, "No one likes me, but they respect me." Sheba, who has trouble as a new teacher keeping control of her classes, is helped one day in the discipline area by Barbara, and they're friends from then on.

Barbara soon becomes obsessed with Sheba, and when a major indiscretion on Sheba's part becomes revealed only to Barbara, she decides to take advantage of her knowledge in order to make sure Sheba and she are friends forever. Dench plays the creepy, creepy Barbara to perfection, eliciting sympathy and interest at the beginning of the film, and rising wariness and then disgust as the movies go on. I think Barbara's character makes us despise her more than she deserves; there are revelations in the film that make the audience, at the same time, more sympathetic and more repulsive at the same time. That's a hard role to fill, but Dench does it with great skill and grace. Blanchett as Sheba, the "bourgeois bohemian," as Barbara so perfectly describes her, is, at times, equally selfish and frustrating, but the nature of the story makes our sympathies lie with her rather than Barbara. This is frustrating, as neither woman is totally angel nor devil, but is the nature of film.

Bill Nighy also gives a truly tremendous performance as Sheba's much-older husband; the two of them together, with their two children, one of whom is disabled, are a picture of marital content, and then of what exactly can go wrong with a marriage that seems so right. The story falls apart in the last third of the movie, but the across the board strong performances make this a movie worth seeing, and worth awarding. I haven't seen many films more pessimistic and almost nihilistic, unrelentingly (until the end, sort of ) dark in a while, which makes it painful and very uncomfortable to watch at times, but worth your time.


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