Close solid, con­ven­tional in ‘Wife’

Fe­male film­mak­ers out in force at Fin­nish Film Af­fair

Arab Times - - NEWS/FEATURES -

GBy An­drew Barker

lenn Close is a tremen­dous ac­tress. That shouldn’t be news to any­one who’s been even half­way fol­low­ing her ca­reer, but if there were still any doubt, her per­for­mance in Bjorn Runge’s “The Wife” erases any re­main­ing room for it. As the sup­port­ive yet se­cre­tive spouse of an ac­claimed writer deal­ing with some old anx­i­eties in the days be­fore he ac­cepts the No­bel Prize, the vet­eran ac­tress is a marvel of twisty un­der­state­ment here, de­liv­er­ing emo­tions that con­ceal as much as they re­veal, and of­fer­ing onion-like lay­ers that in­vite re­peat view­ings in light of some of the film’s later rev­e­la­tions. The film it­self — solid, con­ven­tional, and po­ten­tially quite at­trac­tive to older film­go­ers — is very lucky to have her.

Close stars as sixty-some­thing Joan Castle­man in this adap­ta­tion of Meg Wolitzer’s novel. Set in 1992, we first see Joan in bed with her novelist hus­band, Joe (Jonathan Pryce), who is scarf­ing down sweets to com­pen­sate for his ner­vous­ness on the night be­fore the No­bel hon­orees are an­nounced. The next morn­ing, the news is ex­actly what they’d hoped for, and the fol­low­ing days are a blur of cel­e­bra­tory din­ners and plans for their up­com­ing trip to Swe­den. Their re­la­tion­ship is well-sketched from the start: Joe the some­what ab­sent­minded man-of-let­ters who is all too ea­ger to bask in the glow of recog­ni­tion, Joan the re­gally-com­posed wife who keeps the trains run­ning on time, yet seems less than ea­ger to play the si­lent smil­ing spouse as her hus­band makes toasts in her honor.

There are plenty of such toasts in store for her in Stock­holm, and the cou­ple take their adult son David (Max Irons) along for the trip. Sullen, surly, and per­pet­u­ally star­ing down the col­lar of his leather jacket, David has de­signs on be­com­ing a writer too - while Joan ef­fuses praise for his lat­est story, Joe is too dis­tracted to sit down with it. The fam­ily is trailed by an un­wel­come guest in Nathaniel Bone (Chris­tian Slater), a re­lent­lessly in­sin­u­at­ing jour­nal­ist who is dead-set on com­pos­ing Joe’s bi­og­ra­phy, whether he par­tic­i­pates or not.

We be­gin to see why the Castle­mans might not want a pushy interloper pry­ing into their lives, as Joe takes a shine to the pretty young pho­tog­ra­pher (Karin Franz Korlof) as­signed to shadow him in Swe­den, and Joan gives the sort of frosty sigh that sug­gests she’s seen this sce­nario play out be­fore. But there’s much more to their story, and flash­backs to the cou­ple in the 1960s — back when he (Harry Lloyd) was a strug­gling, mar­ried cre­ative writ­ing pro­fes­sor, and she (An­nie Starke) was his ea­ger stu­dent — start to fill in those gaps.

Runge’s di­rec­tion is un­fussy, the score from Jo­ce­lyn Pook adds quite a bit, and the story, adapted by Jane An­der­son, has some very valid points to make about lit­er­ary sex­ism and the cult of artis­tic per­son­al­ity as it winds its way to­ward a cen­tral se­cret. But there’s a staid, sleepy air of fa­mil­iar­ity to the whole af­fair, and the film’s big rev­e­la­tion may be be­liev­able on its own, yet it calls too much of what’s come be­fore into ques­tion. Thanks to Close’s per­for­mance, we cer­tainly care about Joan, but the flash­back se­quences scan as a tad phony in com­par­i­son, and the film as a whole proves too taste­fully rou­tine to prop­erly raise the stakes.

Rise

“The Wife” is Close’s film from start to fin­ish, and sev­eral of the sup­port­ing per­for­mances fail to rise to her level, with Pryce and Slater the only ones who man­age to im­press in her or­bit. The former slowly erases the line be­tween dod­der­ing lion in win­ter and pa­thetic old wretch as the story pro­gresses, and the lat­ter shares a charged, slyly flir­ta­tious drink with Close that gives the film its bright­est spark. As a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion be­comes an im­promptu in­ter­view, Slater jabs and Close bobs and weaves, their tete-a-tete seem­ing evenly matched un­til Close be­gins to un­veil, piece by piece, just how much in­tel­li­gence and savvy her char­ac­ter has been hold­ing in re­serve the whole time. It’s a great scene, and the cen­ter­piece of a great per­for­mance, but

the film never re­veals sim­i­lar depth.

LOS AN­GE­LES:

Also:

Fe­male film­mak­ers will be out in force with a record num­ber of com­pleted films and projects at the 6th Fin­nish Film Af­fair, an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar film show­case set in Helsinki.

As many as 22 women-di­rected pics will be pre­sented at the Fin­nish Film Af­fair this year. Among the film­mak­ers is Selma Vil­hunen, who earned an Os­car nom­i­na­tion in 2014 with her short “Do I Have to Take Care of Ev­ery­thing?” and will be on hand to pitch her sec­ond film, “Stupid Young Heart”, as well as present her doc­u­men­tary fea­ture “Hob­by­horse Revo­lu­tion”. An­other promis­ing fe­male di­rec­tor, Kaisa El Ramly, will pitch “Scenes from a Dy­ing Town”, one of the projects to be pre­sented in the Work-in-Progress side­bar.

Other an­tic­i­pated Work-in-Progress ti­tles in­clude Jakub Wron­ski and Ira Karpelan’s an­i­mated film “Moomins and the Win­ter Won­der­land”, fea­tur­ing the voices of Ali­cia Vikan­der and Stel­lan Skars­gard, and Arto Halo­nen’s “Guardian An­gel”, with Dan­ish su­per­star Pilou As­baek at­tached to star.

LOS AN­GE­LES:

On the banks of the Red Sea, in a man­made Egyp­tian oa­sis bet­ter suited to snor­kel­ing than cin­ema, a new Mid­dle Eastern fes­ti­val is hedg­ing its bets on the fu­ture of Arab film.

The inau­gu­ral El Gouna Film Fes­ti­val will kick off Sept 22, bring­ing with it a pol­ished lineup of both Mid­dle Eastern and global cin­ema and a slew of round­tables, meet-and-greets and net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties be­tween emerg­ing young film­mak­ers and in­dus­try heavy­weights.

At El Gouna’s core, says co-founder In­tishal Al Tamini, is a com­mit­ment to hu­man­i­tar­ian con­tent, and the use of film as a bridge for di­a­logue and cre­ative in­tel­lect. (RTRS)

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