The Man Who Cried
Rated R, 100 min. Directed by Sally Potter. Starring Christina Ricci, Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Cate Blanchett, Claudia Lander-Duke, Miriam Karlan, Harry Dean Stanton, Oleg Yankovsky.
Would that Sally Potter's moribund wartime love story evinced such a drippy reaction. As it is, a better title might have been The Audience Who Yawned. Potter blew minds with 1992's Orlando, which picked up two Academy Award nods, but fans will find little of that film's gilded humor on display here. The Man Who Cried is so cloaked in a sort of practiced Euro-malaise -- it's set during WWII -- that all the come-hither glances in the world can't save it from itself. Of course, with Depp and Ricci making goo-goo eyes at each other for the duration of the film, well, you've essentially got all the deep-set, longing gazes anyone would ever be sane enough to corral into one film. Love is in the air, commingling with ruined dreams, shattered honor, and lest we forget, brutish Nazi thugs, who force our young Jewish protagonist Fegele (well played as a child by Lander-Duke) away from her village and off to England, where she's quickly stripped of both her soiled clothes, her language, and her name. The film's opening shows her father (Yankovsky) reluctantly departing for America, with dreams of sending for his daughter later, but war intervenes and for the next 90-odd minutes it's Suzie on her own. Once in the U.K. she shows a talent for song, unsurprising since her father was the village cantor. From there, she heads to Paris to become a chorus girl, entertaining troops of all nations. She hooks up with blowzy blonde bombshell Lola (Blanchett), an opportunistic Russian firecracker who insinuates herself into Suzie's tiny garret and proceeds to teach her quiet, shy friend the facts of life during wartime. The pair fall for opposite ends of the male spectrum: Lola for the shrill opera tenor Dante (Turturro), who is brash and overflowing with precious egotism; and Susie for Cesar (Depp), a brooding, silent Gypsy who handles the horses for the opera company. Potter makes much of the unbearable attraction between these two. With her ripe, childlike face and jet-black hair, Suzie looks like Cesar's long-lost nymphet. For his part, the Gypsy horseman exudes a practiced, smoky je ne sais quoi in spades. He has all of three lines in the film, but Depp's angular cheekbones and trademark smolder make this Gypsy rogue into something archetypal. Two young lovers, both oppressed by their bloodlines, thrust together amid the chaos of war -- it ought to work like gangbusters, but The Man Who Cried is simply a gorgeous chunk of cinematic soporific. It's as dull as dry dirt, and things like Blanchett's overblown Russian accent, Turturro's manic performance, and Potter's stately direction don't help matters. On the plus side, famed director of photography Sacha Vierny (Belle de Jour, most Peter Greenaway films) piles on the dark, lush romanticism like nobody's business. If nothing else, The Man Who Cried is a thing of beauty. But then so is a cloud and I wouldn't want to stare at one of those for an hour and half.
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