Sunday, December 07, 2014

Miss Julie

Thing that I probably spent far too much time thinking about during Miss Julie: Nora McMenamy (picture here) doesn't look nearly as much like a young Jessica Chastain as Mackenzie Foy in Interstellar (picture here). Sure, part of it may just be a matter of a couple of years - "Little Miss Julie" is supposed to be ten and young Murph about twelve, I think - and I suspect Liv Ullmann is trying to make a point by having Nora's round child's face become Chastain's.

The other thing that stuck with me (enough that I added a paragraph to the EFC review after sending it elsewhere without commenting) is how darn light out it was for a movie that takes place overnight in Ireland. I wondered if Ullmann was trying to stay true to the play's Swedish origins, even though it being light all night isn't referenced in the English-language dialog at all.

Miss Julie

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 December 2014 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

One often talks of "opening up" plays when adapting them to film, doing things to obscure the fact that they were originally created to take place in a limited number of limited spaces, all viewed from a single vantage point. For her new English-language version of August Strindberg's Miss Julie, filmmaker Liv Ullmann does something unusual: She pushes the walls as far back as she can, but opts not to fill the space, resulting in a production that is cinematic while still emphasizing its theatrical origins.

Only three characters show up on screen: John (Colin Farrell), a valet on a large Irish estate; Kathleen (Samantha Morton), the cook to whom he is more-or-less engaged; and Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain), the daughter of the Baron. It is Midsummer Night, and there are no others around, with the gentry off elsewhere and the rest of the servants having a revel of their own in the barn. Julie opts to stick around the castle and attempt to seduce the handsome valet, right in front of the man's finacée if she chooses, for she is the lady of the house and the lines one does not cross are very clear in 1890.

Strindberg's Froken Julie is (at least as presented here) a play so obsessed with class, propriety, and a woman's virtue that it threatens to become obsolete to a modern audience, coming off as less an earnest and insightful drama of manners than a sort of satire. Western society is not yet classless or above judging people for what they do in private, but the rigidity on display here often seems oddly anti-dramatic, with the lack of choices not as interesting as a number which would require different sorts of sacrifices. There is also a strange tendency for attitudes to undergo very large shifts between acts, which can seem a bit jarring on-screen, as the fade to black in cinema is not quite the strong punctuation that lights going down is on the stage.

Full review at EFC.

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