The Man Who Cried
by E.T. Robbins
Sally Potter, of Titus and Orlando, tries again to give us something quirky, yet tastefully, offbeat.
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Paris. The city of love. The place where Rick’s and Ilsa’s hearts unite. And the place where they are torn apart by the cruelties of war. So it is with a new set of lovers in Sally Potter’s The Man Who Cried.
The film is a combination of dream and nightmare. It is a dream when the impressive lighting and camerawork complement this story of love and loss. It is a nightmare because what may have been a worthwhile tale turns into a disjointed and uneven story that relies too heavily on the piercing stares of its lead characters rather than compelling dialogue or smooth segues.
The film begins in Russia in 1927. There we meet Fegele (Claudia Lander-Duke) and her loving father (Oleg Yankovsky). The father wants the best for his little girl. He decides to head to America where he will send for his daughter and his mother (Hana Maria Pravda) once he is settled. Of course, this never happens.
Fegele is spared the cruelty her fellow villagers meet and is instead shipped off to England where she is given the name Suzie and is placed into a Christian home. Suzie holds a picture of her father as she meets her new parents. Her adopted mother tries to remove the picture gently as she coaxes the child to take a bath. Suzie refuses and the picture is wrestled from her clutches. At school, the children taunt the little Russian girl who speaks no English. However, one day Suzie is overhead singing by the music teacher who takes it upon himself to teach her the language. Although strict with his paddle, he reminds Suzie that it is in her best interest to fit in.
The film skips a dozen years or so to show a grown-up Suzie (Christina Ricci) leaving her parents for Paris where she will become part of a singing and dance troupe. Her parents are expressionless as they hand Suzie the picture of her father. Suzie plans on saving her money so she can travel to America and search for him.
Having learned a proper English accent, Suzie is able to disguise the fact the she is really Jewish. In Paris she becomes friends with Lola (Cate Blanchett) one of her fellow dancers. Lola, a striking blonde who wears too much red lipstick, is from Moscow. Lola invites herself to move into the one room apartment Suzie rents. Of course, girlfriends chat and share secrets. Under the ornaments of a Christmas tree that Lola has erected in the apartment, Suzie shows Lola the picture of her father and confides the she is indeed a Jew. Immediately we know this decision will come back to haunt her.
Lola and Suzie are an interesting study and this is perhaps the most charming and real part of the film. On the surface Lola wants fame and riches. She relies on her striking appearance to get what she wants and admits out loud that if it weren’t for her looks, she never would have left Moscow. Suzie is shy, but a real thinker. Her lines are few, but her cat-like eyes and moon-shaped face do a lot of the acting. It is a refreshing role for Ricci who too often plays the oddball parts in films like The Ice Storm and The Opposite of Sex. Lola and Suzie differ in just about everything from clothing to make-up and of course their taste in men.
Lola falls for Dante Dominio (John Turturro) an Italian opera singer. Lola is able to secure small roles for herself and Suzie in the opera company run by Felix Perlman (Harry Dean Stanton) for whom Dante performs.
While Lola flirts with the star, Suzie makes eye contact with one of the extras, a gypsy named Cesar (Johnny Depp) who handles a horse that is often a scene-stealer much to Dante’s chagrin.
Young love in Paris. We know it’s not going to last and it becomes fairly obvious what will happen since we know Lola has sensitive information about Suzie. The sentiment is real though. How many lovers have been torn apart by war—a war that for these young lovers is a sidebar to their day-to-day life?
The Man Who Cried is uneven in spots jumping from one pivotal scene to another without explanation. In a rush to get to the expected ending, it is packaged too nicely and leaves unanswered questions. However, Sally Potter’s (The Tango Lesson, Orlando) direction and use of color and imagery help to elevate this film. From the stark setting of 1927 Russia to the luminous shots of 1939 Paris, this film is visually captivating.
The acting is strong as well. Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, The Talented Mr. Ripley) is a favorite of mine and is a joy to watch in this film—she is the character that changes the most, but will these changes save her? Her bright red lipstick, although at times distracting, expresses how ridiculous her behavior and view of herself is.
Unfortunately Johnny Depp (Blow, Chocolat) is used as eye candy. Yes, we all love those big brown eyes and cupid bow lips, but please. This is an actor who has proven himself again and again. Let him act! He can just do so much with those darting glances and penetrating stares. We know that there is more to his relationship with Suzie than sex. I wanted to see a glimpse of this.
John Turturro (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski) is strong as Dante (and the dubbing and lip synching is masterful). Arrogant while at the same time scared (he hides in a church as the Germans advance), Dante represents those who point fingers at others in order to save themselves.
Is there resolution in this film? On some levels, yes, but on too many others, no. Although I didn’t walk away completely disappointed, I was not satisfied. There are some questions better left unanswered. However, The Man Who Cried left one too many.
E.T. Robbins is a freelance writer and DJ on Magic 106.7 in Boston. She enjoys trips to Cape Cod, hanging out with her cat/muse Dorian Gray, and eating Red Swedish Fish.
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