How plain Jane lives through her Hurt
Sunday 29 September 1996
Schlock rears its head immediately, with young Jane (a gorgeously defiant Anna Paquin) locked in the Red Room. No psychological subtleties: the camera swoops and tilts zanily around the gory furnishings. One-nil to the moaners; but it's still all to play for. Fiona Shaw as Mrs Reed is a predictably hammy pudding of actorly pauses and odd voice-pitching, but to our relief Jane is soon whisked off to Lowood school. The grim penury of the establishment, and Jane's friendship with the consumptive Helen, are blissfully free of Hollywood sentimentality.
Suddenly, in an elegant graveyard segue, Anna Paquin becomes Charlotte Gainsbourg. The tradition of casting French actresses as English literary heroines is a short and ignominious one - who can remember Juliette Binoche in Wuthering Heights without smirking? - but this is inspired. Moving mostly from the neck up like a nervous duckling, Gainsbourg exploits well her fascinatingly jolie laide features. When Jane believes that Rochester loves Blanche Ingram (travestied as a blonde bimbo by the pointless Elle Macpherson), Bronte's text is intelligently telescoped. We simply get one shot of Gainsbourg looking into a mirror, declaring with melancholy triumph: "You're a fool."
Gainsbourg's superb Jane is matched by her Rochester. William Hurt, so good at fey self- adoration, has of late acquired a craggy depth to his features, and an interesting lower-jaw mobility. Unlike Orson Welles's Rochester, who was too twinkly too soon, Hurt is authentically threatening and violent, and his transition to helpless adoration is perfectly paced. Jane draws his portrait in the garden: upon seeing it, he scowls. "You have me utterly," he complains with venom, and screws the paper up. The line, as delivered, is also a lament for his lost independence, and a gruff celebration of his love.
Jane Eyre, however, is far from perfect. After the mad-wife revelation, Jane's interlude at Moor House is passed over rapidly. Because the seductive alternative of religious life is lost, Jane's return to Rochester seems more easily inevitable. Grace Poole initially appears as a George Romero zombie; Rochester no longer loses a hand in the fire (too disgusting). The book's most famous line - "Reader, I married him" - needs changing, but Gainsbourg's voiceover gives: "And so I married him," which is two words too long. ("And so" replaces Jane's breezy surprise with incongruous argument.) But Jane Eyre's greatest minor triumph is Joan Plowright's detailed, heartwarmingly comic performance as Mrs Fairfax.
The film is strewn with subtle but telling filmic tics: twice Jane is bathed in a cold, astringent light flooding through windows, dissolving her icy self-reliance in a paradoxically warming effect; many times, the camera swoops up to buildings and lurks outside their facades momentarily, as if they too are characters to be denuded of secrets. Finally, the opening and closing tableaux are made to fade out of, and back into, corresponding monochrome etchings. This reflex of book reverence confirms that, despite a joyous clarity, Jane Eyre doesn't quite have the courage to be its own work of art.
Harold Ramis's Multiplicity (12) is a comedy about a man, Doug (Michael Keaton), who is so rushed off his feet between job and family that he accepts the offer of a kindly scientist to clone him. Before long there are four Michael Keatons sharing the screen in naff special-effects montages. Doug Two is a workaholic, beer-drinking slob; Three is a camp, caring new-man type; Four is a retard.
If you thought this was going to be a clever, philosophical comedy, like Ramis's earlier Groundhog Day, forget it. Multiplicity starts off very funny, but gets bogged down in weird sexist fantasies. If simpering were an Olympic sport, then Andie MacDowell (Doug's wife, Laura) would be the new Carl Lewis. Still, it's worrying when the film takes such humourless glee in forcing her to have sex with all three clones, one after the other. Then Laura leaves Doug, and he woos her back by redecorating the homestead. She loves the gleaming new kitchen, gliding around with a creamy grin and ejaculating: "This is perfect!" There you are: all women want is a shag and a nice kitchen. It would have been a teeny bit interesting if Doug had had to kill his oth- er selves to get rid of them; instead, they move to Miami and open a pizza restaurant. Rubbish.
Walter Hill's velvety, violent Last Man Standing (18) has a knotty lineage. It is avowedly based on Kurosawa's Yojimbo, a film about a 19th-century samurai who arrives in a strange town ruled by two rival gangs, and decides to kill them all. That is also where the plot for A Fistful of Dollars came from. But Yojimbo itself was based on Dashiel Hammett's 1929 hard- boiled classic The Red Harvest, so it makes sense that Hill has reset the action in Prohibition-era America, where the gunmen use automatics rather than revolvers, cars rather than horses.
The man with no name is Bruce Willis, who for the last decade and a half has been the only non-pensionable action-hero with an ounce of humanity. Brucie here is free from all trademark moues and smirks, and he exudes an eminently watchable, pent-up physicality. The only hangover from his Die Hard days is the irresistible Vest Shot. Arriving in the mythical border town of Jericho, Bruce finds that an Italian gang of bootleggers is at war with an Irish gang, and plays them off against each other for hard cash, before awakening to a moral certitude that the hoods would all be better off dead.
The Irish gang have a psycho working for them named Hickey (Christopher Walken, natty in a bow-tie and long facial scar). Walken radiates a dumb, doleful hatred, and his voice is the rattling of ancient, sepulchral phlegm, but he is also entertainingly sprightly: "I don't wanna die in Texas," he chuckles. "Chicago, maybe." Last Man Standing fairly drips with style, from bleached, grainy daylight to faces photographed gloomily through grime-streaked windows, and a thumpingly sexy slide-guitar-and-sax score from Ry Cooder - it's that rare thing, a non-smoking noir. At bottom, just boys with guns, but still a visceral and thrilling piece of film-making.
Two French films bring up the rear this week. Eric Rohmer, the playful, humane veteran, gives us the third of his pellucid Contes des Quatre Saisons, namely A Summer's Tale (PG). Gaspard, a thin and shaggy-haired intellectual, is holidaying by the sea, waiting for his girlfriend Lena. He spends his evenings strumming a guitar, composing a dire sea shanty. Meanwhile, he meets babe waitress Margot, and they go on endless, chatty strolls, while Gaspard explains why he's so antisocial and useless with girls. In fact, he's not as useless as he pretends, fooling around Lothario-like with Margot, Lena and nightclub-pickup Solene. It's long, flatly shot and dialogue-heavy, but Rohmer's lightness of touch and loving wit make it pleasurably hypnotic.
Don't Forget You're Going to Die (18), meanwhile, exemplifies the flipside of Gallic cinema: all adolescent desire to shock, hitching itself desperately to high-art motifs in a vain stab at authenticity. Benoit (director/writer/star Xavier Beauvois) is an art-history student who, to avoid military service, opens a vein with his penknife, and is discovered to be HIV-positive. Cue poetically slanted descent into underworld of heroin and crack; tedious non-simulated group sex in Amsterdam. Then Benoit moves to Italy and falls in love with Claudia (photographed post-coitally on mythical white linen as an object of sacral ecstasy), only to abandon her for the next train to Split. There, laughably, he joins a Croatian guerrilla group and gets shot and killed. The big idea is that Romanticism (oh yes, Byron went to fight in a foreign war too, didn't he?) is back. Sadly, Beauvois labours under the impression that Romanticism is the same as Nihilism. Easy mistake to make, perhaps, but don't be too quick to foist it on a hapless public.
Cinema details: Going Out, page 14. Kevin Jackson is on holiday.
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