© Senator/Central

Words and Pictures
U.S.A. 2013

Opening 22 May 2014

Directed by: Fred Schepisi
Writing credits: Gerald Di Pego
Principal actors: Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Bruce Davison, Valerie Tian, Navid Negahban

Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) teaches English in a high school in Maine, USA. His students call him Mr. Marc and appreciate his ability to share the power of words, while quoting Agee, Updike, Proust, Wilde, Shakespeare, you name it. All this, while in a state of depression, drowned in alcohol because of a failed career as a writer. Along comes new art teacher Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), nicknamed The Icicle because of her cold personality. She suffers from painful attacks of rheumatoid arthritis. Jack and Dina are instantly rivals in the staff room and in the halls. They establish a competition to rate the value of words against art, which the students enthusiastically join. Naturally, we know how the film will end, but it is fun to see the main protagonists get there via such comments as, “A dozen truthful words are worth a thousand pictures.” “Art is a human decorative skill.” The Haiku is an early Tweet. “Words are lies and traps.” (Try to see this film in English – I’m translating from German!)

The producers would like us to see this as a rehashed version of a couple in clinch, e.g., Billy Crystal versus Meg Ryan in Harry and Sally (1989) or Katherine Hepburn versus Spencer Tracy in their various films. I saw, rather, the teacher in the Dead Poets Society (Robin Williams, 1989). Filmed in the St. George’s Senior School in Vancouver. Much praise goes to Juliette Binoche who does all of her own art work. In fact, all of the art work in the film comes either from Binoche or from students at the St. George’s School or the Emily Carr University of Art & Design, also in Vancouver. Script writer Gerald di Pego could draw on his own experiences as a former high school teacher. In fact, teachers are a made-for audience. Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche are, of course, quite established stars, and now, at age 50 (both born 1964), quite possibly at the height of their careers, for which this film is a satisfactory vehicle. (Becky Tan)

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