The Man Who Cried is a meditation on dislocation and discrimination by Sally Potter (Orlando, The Tango Lesson).After a lengthy prologue in 1927 Russia, the bulk of the film is set in Paris on the eve of World War II through to the beginning of the German occupation. As my companion remarked, watching The Man Who Cried is like viewing a photographed poem set to music, rather than an ordinary film. Sacha Vierny's crisp images (he also worked on Peter Greenaway's films) are frequently beautiful, and help give the film its very European feel. Which only makes the casting of non-Europeans in the leads seem bizarre.
Americans Christina Ricci, John Turturro and Johnny Depp feature as - respectively - a Russian Jew, brought up in England as an orphan (her father left the family for America when she was a little girl); an Italian opera singer, sympathetic to Mussolini; and a gypsy living in Paris. Australian Cate Blanchett rounds out the cast as a Russian dancer, prepared to sleep with any well-connected man, no matter his political beliefs. Blanchett revels in her thick Russian accent, and gets to wear all manner of fancy frocks. Ricci has to carry the burden of the film's grief in her gloomy face. My favourite moment in the film was her spontaneous smile as Johnny Depp turns to her, while they enter a tavern, because it didn't feel calculated.
There isn't a lot of smiling in The Man Who Cried, or much humour (I can only recall one amusing visual gag, unless you count the numerous wigs and beards that Turturro dons for his opera roles). When a film is this self-consciously serious and solemn, I can't help but find unintended humour (Blanchett's sudden departure from the film is a killer).Potter may have composed the film's images well in advance, but the plot and linking dialogue is clichéd and unimaginative. The Man Who Cried has a lulling rhythm, and it's probably best to sit back and enjoy the beautiful music. Ranging from gypsy singing and playing to Bizet to Osvaldo Golijov's original score - the music is the most successful aspect of the film.