This week, I caught two movies that I thought I'd share.
The first one, Stealing Beauty, was one I'd heard about before but never gotten around to watching. It stars Liv Tyler, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, and a host of talented Italian actors. (I only mention the names preceding because those are probably the names you will recognize. Other than Tyler and Irons, most of the substantial roles seem to have been performed by Italian actors.)
At any rate, Tyler stars as Lucy Harmon, the 19-year-old, virginal daughter of a famous poet who has recently committed suicide. Lucy, upon going through her late mother's things, finds evidence that the man she thought was her father is not, indeed, her father. Her mother's notes suggest that an Italian man is Lucy's true father. Curious, Lucy goes to an art colony (of sorts) in Italy that her mother used to frequent to find out more.
There, we are introduced to a bohemian way of life and an eccentric cast of characters. Lovable Alex (Irons), a writer with a terminal illness, becomes fast friends with Lucy. As the summer progresses, Lucy discovers the identity of her father and finds her first love.
This film is beautifully shot. It takes a nostalgic, romantic view of Italy and the artist's life. The film explores the concepts of love, secrets, and youth. I enjoyed watching most of it, though there was a bit too much nudity and profanity for my taste. This is definitely an adults-only film, but there are some good performances (notably Tyler, Irons, and a solid turn by Sinead Cusack) that make the film worth watching. (The film actually reminded me a bit of an arty version of those old "losing your virginity" movies of the 80s. It's sort-of the same concept, but treated with a loftier, more serious tone.)
I also had the unbelievable good fortune to stumble upon Guinevere, starring Sarah Polley and Stephen Rea. I really enjoyed this movie.
Polley plays Harper, a young, insecure woman on the brink of attending Harvard Law School. At her sister's wedding, she meets Connie Fitzpatrick, an aging wedding photographer. He strikes up an easy rapport with her, guessing quickly that she's not cut out for law school and flattering her with a compliment or two. Connie also slyly accommodates her request not to be photographed in the traditional wedding shots, but he surprises her with a beautiful portrait that he took (featuring only her) in an unguarded moment. When Harper visits Connie to thank him for the portrait, he invites her to stick around with him and learn about . . . art.
Before she knows it, Harper is chucking the idea of law school and moving in with her new lover. The two seem oddly happy together, though Harper's own low self-esteem and Connie's need for adulation are more than a little self-destructive. Harper soon discovers that she's one in a string of Connie's many "pupils" - all young, all insecure, all taken in by his talk of art and his Irish accent. Connie has fed them all the same lines, tried to inspire all of them to create art, called them all his "Guinevere." Despite that, however, Harper decides Connie's a better bet than her own dysfunctional family of backbiting lawyers. Eventually, however, Connie and Harper have a sad parting.
The film comes full circle four years later, when news of Connie's impending death reaches his former loves. The women all gather (without malice, no less) to say goodbye, and, strangely enough, most of them have gone on to become accomplished artists - painters, photographers, etc.
I thought this movie was very interesting and very well-done. The characters are not always likable - Harper, jealous of her older sister's close relationship with her father, runs to Connie as a substitute; Connie, though an excellent photographer, is also an old lech with too much of a taste for girl-flesh; Harper's family is made out to be an intelligent but thoroughly hatable group whose main characterization is their vocation - law.
Rea and Polley hold the film deftly in ther capable hands, and their performances are wonderful. I'm beginning to really love Polley. I thought she was stunning in My Life Without Me and I LOVED her in The Weight of Water. (The girl's been acting for more than 20 years - you might remember her from "The Road to Avonlea" - so she ought to know what she's doing, eh?)
Though there is a little nudity, some sexual content, and plenty of profanity in this one, I thought it was very much worth watching.