Monday, August 10, 2009

A Review: Oscar and Lucinda (1997)

In 1997, Gillian Armstrong, the director of My Brilliant Career and Little Women brought to the film-going public something new to bask in, Oscar and Lucinda. The said title characters are just about my favourite kind (which is starting to become a kind of cliche in this blog): people who skirt on the outer edges of proper society; misfits; outcasts; un-fitter-ins (I made that one up myself to spice things up).

I'll say it right off. This film isn't perfect, nor is it near-perfect. The pacing is a little uneven, some scenes are perhaps too long, others perhaps too short, and perhaps this is not a film for those with weak attention spans - they, like myself, might be left wondering at what is happening. Oh, and the ending is cruel (well, that isn't the film's fault, but wishful thinker me would have liked it to be not so...bittersweet).

It's always good to get flaws cast aside at the start so you can move forward to the pros of the film. For me, positive number one comes in the form of Ralph Fiennes, whose beautiful light blue/green/ocean-like eyes are not beside the point but part of his wonderful characterisation of Oscar. There's expressions in those eyes that the camera allows us to focus on. We see sensitivity, awkwardness, love, risk--add your own emotion. So as you can gather, Fiennes made the film for me. Cate Blanchette's bold, assertive, independent, feministic (before the term was popular) Lucinda is a wonderful heroine. She defies society's rules and one delightful example is in her clothes: yes, she wears the frilly dresses of her time, but she combines them with long pantalons that can be seen. How do these seeming opposite yet similar one of a kinds meet? Through a passion of gambling--one is a priest who gambles to make money (Fiennes), another is a heiress who gambles to lose her money (Blanchett). The premise is delicious isn't it?

But like I mentioned, this film is bittersweet. It's a film that shows that love can be limitless and it can bring out the bravery you didn't think you had (Fiennes' Oscar, who had an unfortunate incident with water as a youngster, hates coming into contact with it. Yet, love makes him take a glass-made church through several rivers...). And that bravery can have costs. I say no more on the matter.

One of the wonderful things about the film is the score by Thomas Newman (he's a notable modern composer as far as I know--I hear much of his music through wonderful mvs on youtube). The music played during the titlecards and again in various moments, evokes the sweeping, glorified Australian landscape. It makes me think of untamed wilderness and freedom.

So though this film didn't reach the cinematic height of My Brilliant Career (to make an arguably useless comparison between films by the same director), it sparkles with individual charm. In the end it is the title characters that make this film worth one's while.

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