Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowl­edge

MARIE CURIE: THE COURAGE OF KNOWL­EDGE, biog­ra­phy, not rated, in French with sub­ti­tles, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Nom­i­nated for seven Academy Awards, in­clud­ing Best Pic­ture, Best Ac­tor, and Best Ac­tress, the 1943 MGM hit Madame Curie has al­ways stood as a near-ideal Hol­ly­wood biopic. Sure, Al­dous Hux­ley’s orig­i­nal screen­play got trashed, deemed too lit­er­ary by the stu­dio, es­pe­cially af­ter Greta Garbo left MGM and no longer re­mained to por­tray the two-time No­bel Prize win­ner. Irene Dunne had also been con­sid­ered for the role, then un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously dropped.

It ul­ti­mately fell upon Greer Gar­son to de­pict Marie Curie, the Pol­ish-born sci­en­tist who ush­ered in the new age of ra­dioac­tiv­ity, af­ter not only dis­cov­er­ing the el­e­ment ra­dium but also one she named polo­nium in honor of her home­land. While you can see the Hol­ly­wood stage­craft spin­ning in Madame Curie, Gar­son dis­plays a rev­er­ence for knowl­edge that is sel­dom seen on screen these days — as does Wal­ter Pi­geon, as her clos­est sci­en­tific col­lab­o­ra­tor and hus­band Pierre. In any nor­mal year, the film would have swept the Os­cars, but it went home empty-handed, whipped across the board by Casablanca.

Now, nearly 75 years later, a new film from France picks up the story, fo­cus­ing on the eight-year pe­riod from 1903 to 1911, the time frame be­tween Curie’s first No­bel Prize for physics, which she shared with her hus­band, and her sec­ond prize for chem­istry. In a sign of how much has changed since 1943, the fo­cus here has shifted, con­cen­trat­ing on Curie’s role as a ground­break­ing fem­i­nist, be­com­ing the first woman ac­cepted as a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Paris, de­spite a range of chau­vin­is­tic troglodytes try­ing to stop her.

The film also de­picts her in a tor­rid sex scan­dal. Yes, she still cham­pi­ons her hus­band af­ter his death in 1906, but that doesn’t keep her from em­bark­ing on an af­fair with one of his lab as­sis­tants, Paul Langevin (Arieh Worthaler). His wife wastes no time spilling the beans to the press, who pro­ceed to hound Curie.

Al­though the histri­on­ics some­times give the drama the air of a Life­time movie, Marie Curie: The Courage

of Knowl­edge re­mains quite com­pelling, ow­ing not only to Karolina Gruszka’s earthy, full-throt­tled per­for­mance as the hero­ine, but also the res­o­nant cine­matog­ra­phy by Michal En­glert, es­pe­cially his blue-fil­tered work to show­case the glow­ing ra­dium. I would have liked to have seen more ex­per­i­ments done but that’s prob­a­bly ask­ing too much, es­pe­cially nowa­days, when sci­ence movies rarely linger in the lab.

Marie Noëlle di­rected and co-wrote the screen­play with An­drea Stoll. The pac­ing is brisk — never too lan­guid or fuzzy. There are some strong in­ter­lock­ing scenes that il­lus­trate Curie’s char­ac­ter, as when she meets a young Al­bert Ein­stein (Piotr Glowacki) at a beach re­sort and they share trade se­crets, shuf­fling aside the as­sem­bled aca­demics. We also get to meet daugh­ter Irène, who went on to win a No­bel Prize in 1935. One can al­ready pic­ture the se­quel.

— Jon Bow­man

Ex­per­i­men­tal cinema: Karolina Gruszka

Bet­ter liv­ing through chem­istry: Arieh Worthaler and Gruszka

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