Sunday, 18 September 2011

Jane Eyre

Despite its talented cast, the film chose to play safe in its adaptation of the text, with a mediocre result


There’s always a temptation to lump Charlotte Bronte into the same “period drama” category as Jane Austen. Although their novels often share similar themes love against the odds and a woman trying to find her place in the world they are very different authors, with Bronte being the darker, more socially transgressive of the pair.

Countless productions of Jane Eyre have been produced for cinema and the small screen, and with the young director Cary Fukunaga, there was a opportunity to explore the novel’s many layers, including its subplots on madness, race and gender roles, which have often been neglected in other versions. Instead, the result was a mediocre adaptation that lacked depth.

The film begins on a wet and windy evening with a bedraggled, wandering adult Jane finding shelter with the puritanical but kind vicar, St John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his kind sisters. This bold move to start the film in the middle of the novel provides an interesting and novel viewpoint into our heroine’s journey. From then, Jane Eyre’s childhood years are presented as a sort of flashback, explaining how her unloved, strict childhood has shaped her.

However, the rest of the film is tame, following the main thread of the novel, whereby Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre’s love is threatened by the presence of his mad wife, who he keeps locked away in his castle. Unlike other productions, which have tried to add some dimension to her character, Bertha Mason is denied a voice for the whole film. We know little about her history or why she became mad, and there is no critique of the way she is kept in a sort of asylum within her house. In the novel, there is ambiguity about whether she is a black Jamaican, Creole or white elements which could have been incorporated into the film to explore the issues of race, colonialism and class. Instead, Bertha Mason is a white, beautiful female, and we know little about her.

Michael Fassbender is perfectly cast as Mr Rochester dark and brooding with a mysterious glint in his eye, while Mia Wasikowska is brilliant as the plain Jane, and manages to convey her character’s loneliness at Thornfield Hall. However, they both lack sexual chemistry, possibly because it is difficult to recreate the slow-burning attraction between master and governess in a two-hour film. In the five-hour BBC television adaptation, Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson were convincing as the lovers and their burgeoning love could be seen through the flirtation and witty, sarcastic comments exchanged between the pair, which developed as the episodes progressed.

One of the best moments of the book is when the heroine first meets Mr Rochester caked in mud, lying sprawled on his backside by the road, having fallen off his horse hardly Mr Darcy material. There are many other comedic moments, but the film breezes past them, instead focussing excessively on creating a moody Gothic atmosphere of foreboding and mystery, which runs out of steam by the end of the film.

The film is well-shot, but with such good actors, it had the potential to really question, challenge and explore the themes of Bronte’s original work, opening the story to a newer, younger audience. Andrea Arnold’s production of Wuthering Heights promises to be a thought-provoking version of the text, featuring a black actor in the role of Heathcliff. Instead, Fukuanga decided to stick with the expectations of Bronte purists. This may have been a safe move, but the final product ultimately fell short of previous adaptations.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito)

Almodovar makes this Frankenstein-esque scientist transcend boundaries that Mary Shelley would never have dreamed of....


Pedro Almodovar’s films are known for their rich colours and cinematography. In each film, he creates a few focal images that still resonate in the audience’s mind, long after the film has finished. In the last Almodovar film I watched, Broken Embraces, the image which stuck out was Penelope Cruz in front of the mirror, looking like a Continental Marilyn Munroe.

In the Skin I Live In, there are plenty of beautifully stylised shots, including the film’s poster, featuring the doctor, Dr Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), about to unveil the face of Vera (Elena Anaya). The film opens with a shot of Vera stretching in a fresh-coloured bodysuit, her flexible, supine figure moulding naturally into awkward positions. We find out that she is the patient of Dr Ledgard, a reclusive plastic surgeon who lives in Toldeo, Spain. He lost his wife a while back when she committed suicide following a horrific car accident that left her covered in burns. Since then, the doctor, like Frankenstein, has been working feverishly in his laboratory to create a synthetic skin that could be used for the patients with burns. Vera is both his patient and his muse, and he is acts like her divine maker. Her skin, which we, like the scientist, gaze at voyeuristically, is pristine and dewy, primed to perfection artificially. He keeps her locked away in his house, under the supervision of his house keeper. However, as the story progresses, Dr Ledgard’s obsession with skin intertwines the three central characters in ways that will shock and surprise.

Although the film has been described as a psychological horror, there’s an air of dark comedy about it. The plots at times seems so incredulous that what starts as a pathos-inducing Senecan tragedy , with the themes of justice and revenge, ends up like Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, with blood and bodies everywhere, and very little sympathy for anyone, except maybe Vera, who has been sliced and diced to perfection by the doctor.

Antonio Banderas is a great choice for the scientist, smouldering and suave. He keeps Vera in a room with a one-way mirror, and gazes at her as she languishes on the sofa- his voyeuristic eye as penetrative as the scalpels he uses to invade her body. The film explores the importance of skin and image and whether it can change our fundamental identity and sexuality, or whether there is an essence of us that stays intact despite mental and physical invasion.

Almodovar saves his big twist for near the end of the play, and it’s ingeniously devised so that many of the loose ends of the story tie up by the end. Ultimately, in this twenty-first century Frankenstein story, Ledgard, like his eighteenth-century counterpart, is faced with a creation that comes back to haunt him.