Friday, October 30, 2009

Julie & Julia Film Review: Eating Their Words

A Food Film to Savour

My partner is a food tragic who regularly turns today's exotic TV recipe into tonight's meal. Like Julia Child I'm good at eating, very good. My lack in culinary skills is balanced by my blogging. Between us we have the perfect credentials to review Julie & Julia.

This movie was a must see for us. In addition to the aforementioned interests, we have always been keen followers of that limited but classy genre, food films. Greats like 'La Grande Bouffe', 'Tampopo', and 'Eat Drink, Man Woman' cover a range of cuisines such as Scandinavian, Japanese, Italian and Chinese. 'Julie and Julia' adds a gastronomic tableau of French delights. It's not those who are butter shy.

Writer/director Nora Ephron has a track record of fluffy, feel-goods such as 'Bewitched', 'Michael' and 'Sleepless in Seattle'. Her latest film is a leap forward, perhaps because of the outstanding cast or its irresistible storylines. Meryl Streep is superb as the eccentric and original Julia Child. Amy Adams carries off the stressed joy-germ Julie Powell with seeming ease. They are well matched and perfectly juxtaposed. Only fifty years prevent them from building on their memorable interactions in Doubt. This time superior and novice meet in a virtual world.

The husbands are not an equal pair. Stanley Tucci has the more compelling character in Julia's husband Paul. He thoroughly eclipses Chris Messina's portrayal of Eric Powell. To be fair to Chris, he had little to work with. His one-dimensional character is the weak link in the script. It is ironic that the really moving love story belongs to the older couple.

A highlight is Julia's interactions with sister Dorothy, played with zany gusto by Jane Lynch. They are real gems.

In 1950s Paris, the Child's have the pick of the settings for romantic comedy. Ephron manages to give the overworked city a fresh look in this delicious twist on the American in Paris genre. The Powell's apartment above a pizzeria in Queens, New York, offers a suitably unglamorous contrast to that other great metropolis.

Fans of Julie and/or Julia should try not to bring along too much baggage. The audience is reminded regularly that the movie is based on two "true" stories and two autobiographical books. But in the end this is fiction. It's all too good to be true. Don't expect more than a superficial dip into the lives of these two remarkable celebrities. Their haracters' flaws are the ones we'd all like to have.

Some aspects of the movie are disappointing. Meryl Streep's performance is captivating but it does not escape caricature at times. Amy Adams is the girl-next-door whose antics borrow a bit too much from sit com humour.

In essence the film is fun, not drama. It's a glorious sensual experience in both senses of the word.

Enjoy! Bon appetite!

(This post was first published at Associated Content)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Séraphine's unique vision

Séraphine is the 'true' story of Séraphine Louis de Senlis. It is a French language film about art, about sanity, and about class. She is one of the invisible people, a maid, cleaner, clothes washer and odd jobs person. She is also a painter of rare talent, an autodidact who paints because her religious voices tell her to.

This French servant of the Virgin Mary is discovered by a German agnostic, gay art collector, Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur). (Uhde was an early admirer of Picasso.) Two world wars and the depression punctuate their personal and professional association. Wilhelm encourages Séraphine to develop her painting.

This is a slow but moving portrayal of this unique and little known woman. Director and co-writer Martin Provost is clearly mesmerised by her:
Séraphine is a visionary in the powerful sense of the word. She let herself be carried by something that was stronger than she was, that she did not control, at the risk of destroying herself. This moved me deeply.
Director Interview
Provost milks the French rural settings for all their beauty and tranquility. However, the 125 minutes could have been cut back without losing any of the film's emotional and intellectual impact. It's a visual feast. Séraphine's paintings are also a revelation.

The two leads are exceptionally good. Yolande Moreau lives the role in a memorable performance. Her Mary Poppins silhouette of hat, bag and umbrella graces the screen with both pathos and humour.

Her urbane patron is well captured by Tukur, presenting the gentleness and humanity that are central to the character. No Germanic stereotyping here. The supporting cast keep up the high standard.