by Greg Muskewitz
At an early press screening for "The Man Who Cried," I overheard some of the other critics lamenting over a lack of dialogue throughout the film. My question is why the fuss? What is so unusual about a filmmaker using the images to tell the story, rather than have the actors spell it all out in their dialogue. By sparsely using dialogue in a film, it poses a slight risk and imposes on the actors for its success, but the best films make it seem effortless, and Christina Ricci never loses her composure — that is, unless she wants to."The Man Who Cried" is an extremely simplistic story. It takes place, like many movies, during World War II, but it never claims the event as the focus of the plot. Instead, as a backdrop, it helps propel the progression of the events and characters that emanate with appeal. After an opening shot of Fegele/Suzie (Christina Ricci) buoyantly bobbing about in flaming water, we flash back to 1927. Fegele is but a tiny girl, a Russian Jew, living with her father. The Germans have begun to ascend their way, so he leaves to America to try and prepare a place, upon which he will send for his daughter. But things happen too fast, and Fegele must flee with some other locals.
"To die for. Or to cry for."
Detoured, the stubbornly stoic girl ends up in England instead of America; she is placed in a home and re-named Suzie. Forced to break her ways, but following the gift of singing from her father, her maturation in both areas allows her to move to Paris a decade later. Suzie becomes part of a chorus and saves her money in hopes of tracing down her father in America, but is temporarily deterred by Lola (Cate Blanchett), a Russian dancer (dance, Lola, dance) with a head full of naïve ideas. ("Suzie, you take my advice: Buy yourself a dress and find a rich man who will take you to America")
They both become part of a big production, while Lola seduces the lead actor (seduce, Lola, seduce) Dante Dominio (John Turturro), a Nazi sympathizer, Suzie joins up with a similar outcast, the gypsy horse-handler Cesar (Johnny Depp). (Dante hates the horse — and the gypsy — who is always upstaging him. Once during a performance, the white stallion defecates on stage to Dante's horror, and post-performance, the director tries to defuse him: "Don't worry, it wasn't making a comment on your performance.") With the threat of the Nazis always on the verge of arrival, and Dante's growing disdain for Suzie (jealousy, actually, since she chooses the gypsy over him), Suzie and Lola are forced to move quickly.
Don't let me fool you; it is not as though there is no dialogue in the film, but writer/director Sally Potter makes the decision to show Suzie's dislocation, confusion and melancholia through her actions and silence. It winds up with a profound effect, one far more unobtainable by the usage of words. All of this is added to by Ricci's strength as an actress, something she continually proves to be true. As a further addition, Ricci's blended look into the period, the style of her hair, the way the dresses hang on her, makes it appear so natural, almost as though the time was created around her. Her ability to change appearances, whether it be the gothic look of "The Addams Family," the slutty look of "Buffalo '66," or the 19th century teenager in "Sleepy Hollow," her looks redesign her each time. Not many actors are so lucky. One of the eeriest elements of the film was the similarity between Ricci's Fegele and the young Fegele, played by Claudia Lander-Duke. Their symmetry, separated only by years, is unique and a bonus.
The other three major players are also to die for. Turturro is my personal favorite actor on the male side (Ricci, in the other respective category of females, is in constant battle for the top spot against Natalie Portman, Sarah Polley and Neve Campbell), and while he is more of an unlikable villain here than I've seen him before, the impact is still there. Blanchett, more involved and alive than recently in "The Gift," this allows her more room to relax in, to enjoy herself in, and for us to enjoy her in, too. She's a bit of a sidekick, but as bait, she brings in a good catch. Only Johnny Depp isn't where I would expect him to be. Part of that is inasmuch as it's the way Potter designed his character --a more extreme and staid counterpart to the young and aged Fegele-- but Depp approaches it too coldly, and it takes a lot of progression before there is any warmth to be detected. In the end it makes it to where Depp is carrying the heavier load.
Judging from the two works I have seen by Potter, she is at the complete opposite sides of the spectrum. "Orlando" was a disaster, a mess, a stupid combination and mixture of times, places and sexes. While she wrote the screenplay, it was an adaptation of a Virginia Woolf. Not counting her short films, she had two prior to "Orlando," and "The Tango Lesson" in the middle of that and "The Man Who Cried," which is her own original script. I give her a lot of credit for not mashing the story up into melodramatic oatmeal with the accessible conventions of the war. It would have been easy for her to let the events consume her story and override the experience that she did achieve. Potter uses the war for its purpose, for the flow of the story, for the leading up to and end of events, but she lets the characters dictate most of the plot, and that's important. There still is a certain experimental sense to this, which includes the cinematography by octogenarian (well on his way to nonagenarian) Sacha Vierny, the often collaborator of Alain Resnais and Peter Greenaway. (The scene where Ricci, by bicycle, chases Depp and company on their horses along the Place de la Concorde, stands alone in its staunch beauty, and much more as a single scene.) The images are shot and caressed with often a bright palette, and the colors themselves vary widely in their degree of contrast. The saturated image in addition to the skip-bleaching processes used make it ravishing to stare at. The score is but another technical element to highlight the film, and tends to emphasize the emotion of the moment with the visual of the actors, in place of words that would clumsily trip up the flow. "The Man Who Cried" is certainly one of the best films not only of the fledgling summer, but of the year so far.
With Oleg Yankovskiy, Harry Dean Stanton, Hana Maria Pravda and Alan David.
http://www.landmark-theatres.comFinal Verdict: A.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4619&reviewer=172
originally posted: 06/09/01 10:49:54