Friday, December 30, 2005

****MOVIE RECOMMENDATION****"The White Countess"; "Ladies in Lavender"

"THE WHITE COUNTESS": Once again: a lovely, delicate, refined-sensibility, beautifully-mounted film by Merchant-Ivory (long time successful producer-director team). This one is set in pre-WWII Shanghai, China (late 1930's). Ralph Fiennes is a blind ex-diplomat who dreams of opening a elegant, refined Cole-Porter-like, geisha-house-like bar, with beautiful men and beautiful women being beautiful together. He need an icon, a frontespiece, a beautiful woman to be hostess; and settles on Natasha Richardson...a White Russian down-on-her-luck countess-emigre from now Red Russian Communist Soviet Union; who before Fiennes settles on her, is a dime-and-dance hall girl--(and more?)--supporting a family (and daughter) of poverty stricken and 'I am too-proud to work' family of other Russian ex-nobility (aunts Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave among them).

She and Fiennes meet in the dance hall and soon move to his uptown bar. An hour of lovely but overly slow developing, physically unfulfilled love story commences between Richardson and Fiennes (who both give exquisite performances: she is breathtakingly beautiful and talented; and he is better than I've ever seen him before-or-since Schindler's List).

Finally, the Japanese attack...and the plot thickens, and the pace picks up. What is left is an engrossing, engaging story, with pace, complications and character-revealing machinations. Will the lovers escape? Will they be killed? Will the emigre family succeed in their boat-flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong (after they refused to take Natasha along because she has lost respectability by her occupational efforts keeping them fed and housed!!!)? Will mother and daughter be separated? Will Ralph succeed in finding Natasha amidst all the chaos and fire engulfing Shanghai during the Japanese invasion--remember he is blind--and get her on a boat to Macao?

Watching all this, you care...which is more than you can say for most characters in most movies in this mostly forgettable film year of 2005.

LADIES IN LAVENDER: One of the sweetest , most poiniant films of the year. Older women fanticizing about a mysterious young man who drops into their lives. Any film with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench in it is bound to be wonderful, but it is a particular delight watching them sharing screen time and screen focus. They know it takes two to tango; two to create great creative acting chemistry. Ego-driven lesser your hearts out watching consummate professionalism. And sit in the theater and learn.


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