Hawking Up Hairballs

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Two Wonderful Performances

Acting on stage is a much different than acting in film. Since one must project to the audience, it's all about voice and big gestures on the stage. In film, though voice and delivery of lines are important, I believe that it's the small gestures and facial expressions that distinguish the great actors. It is through the changes in these gestures and expressions that one reads the thoughts that are going through the character's mind. Unfortunately, most of the actors that are inflicted upon us are one-dimensional. An expression is set and it remains the same until the moment has passed. Thank goodness, there are some truly acccomplished actors and, thanks to my Netflix subscription, I've recently enjoyed two wonderful performances.

The first was by Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves. I doubt that I would ever have seen the movie without Netflix. They have this system where you rate the movies that you have watched. They match your ratings with those of other members and suggest movies that you might like. Breaking the Waves was one of them. At first I didn't think that I would like it. It was completely shot with handheld cameras and ambient light. That was initially distracting but, after the first ten minutes or so, I got used to it, and it worked surprisingly well. It's chief virtue was in making the actors look less like beautiful celebrities and more like ordinary folk.

In Breaking the Waves, Emily Watson plays a woman who comes to believe that God will cure her paralyzed and dying husband if she sleeps with other men. Watson is wonderful in the lead. She has beautiful eyes and she uses them well, communicating so many subtle emotions with facial gestures. One scene particularly impressed me. Watson has just gotten married. She's in the restroom with her husband at the marriage party. She's never had a man, and she insists that her husband take her right there. A number of different expressions come over her face as he does so and, though she doesn't say so, you can read a multitude of thoughts and emotions on her faces. I wanted to get up off of the couch and clap, but one of my cats was sleeping in my lap. Can't disturb the cat when it's sleeping.

Watson has said that it was a difficult role because the character was something of a clown and a saint at the same time, but Watson proved herself up to the task, and that's the point of the movie. Here's this simple soul, who is more than a little mad, who becomes a whore to save her husband's life and, at the the end of the movie, you realize that she just might be something of a saint. It's the best film that I've watched since City of God.

The second performance that impressed me was by Scarlett Johansson in The Girl With The Pearl Earring. This film is based upon the novel by Tracy Chevalier, which is a story about how the eponymous painting by Vermeer might have come about. Johansson is just wonderful in the movie. I know, adjectives like "wonderful" aren't very descriptive, but it's hard not to enthuse in discussing Johansson's performance. She becomes the character right down to the smallest detail, and she uses her facial expressions to such wonderful effect. Colin Firth plays opposite her as Vermeer, the prototypical brooding artist, and that's how he understands his character. There are no nuances to his performance at all, and he comes off looking bad in his scenes with Johansson. There are many moments where they exchange these lingering looks. Whenever they do so, Firth's face remains set in the same expression while Johansson's runs through three or four subtle changes. You can virtually read what's going on in her character's mind. It's unfortunate that the movie isn't better, but it's good enough and worth watching just to see Johansson's performance.


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