CLIVE OWENS VS. JULIETTE BINOCHE COMPETING FOR STUDENTS’ HEARTS AND MIND

Words and Pictures (2013)

WP

Pros: leads

Cons: effort required to suspend disbelief

I think that Julette Binoche, who is now 50 years old, is radiantly beautiful and palpably intelligent. Her performance —and/or her aura! — are the main reason to watch the 2013 romantic comedy in which she and Clive Owen play dueling teachers in a Maine prep school (not a residential one). She teaches honors art, he honors English (each teaches only one course a day?). The start of the movie has too much resemblance to “Dead Poets Society,” plus those of us who have seen many movies know that antagonism between the male lead and the female lead will metamorphose into love, or at least sex by the end.

Stimulating the student body into a confrontation of words an pictures strains my ability to suspend disbelief, though I have no difficult accepting Owen as an alcoholic blocked writer and Binoche as painter embittered by the betrayal of her body of rheumatoid arthritis (plus an unrelated knee problem). She has become unable to do what she wants (paint what she sees), but has not given up (seeing what she can paint), and is stimulated by the challenges of Owen’s arrogant Jack Marcus.

Accepting Binoche (whose English is faultless and has no French accent) as Italian American (her character is named Dina Delsanto) is made more difficult by the extremely, almost parodistically French scarf she wears in her first scene.

The school’s principal, Rashid (Navid Negahban) seems straight out of “Glee,” though there is no Coach Sue Sylvester anywhere around. Bruce Davison provides support to Jack in an understated way, and there are emotionally needy students, and lots of dialogue and monologue (some of it awful, some not), but the movie is mostly about the damaged adults zigzagging towards each other’s arms.

Binoche did not just play a painter, but did all of Dina’s artwork for the movie (not just what she is shown doing of it IN the movie). Though Binoche has been in many movies I don’t much like (plus some I do, such as “Le hussard sur le toit,” “The English Patient,” “Caché) I consider her a bona fide goddess.

The DVD includes a making-of featurette excessive even in the genre of “We all love and admire everyone else connected with the movie so much.” The movie was directed by veteran (born in 1939) Australian director Fred Schepisi (Roxanne, Six Degrees of Separation, Empire Falls, Iceman [whatever happened to John Lone, btw?]

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