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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Scott McGehee, David Siegel
scr Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal
with Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella, Kate Bosworth, Alisha Mullally, Justin Alioto, Brian Leonard, Kathy McGraw, Heather Barberie, Scott Palmer, Corey Fischer
release US 11.Nov.05,
05/US Fox 1h44
How do you spell God? Cross and Gere
McGehee and Siegel bring their fascinatingly visual approach to another difficult story with this film about spelling bees and all things mystical/spiritual. Yes, it's just a bit intense.
Meet the Naumann family: 12-year-old Eliza (Cross) is a spelling expert who has finally grabbed the attention of her preoccupied parents--Miriam (Binoche), still traumatised after losing her parents in a car crash, and Saul (Gere), obsessed with Jewish mysticism. Meanwhile, Eliza winning the district, regional and state bees takes the spotlight off older brother Aaron (Minghella), who finds the space to explore new beliefs through a beautiful stranger (Bosworth).
In a film obsessed with letters and words, Kaballah, Krishna, kleptomania and Catholicism are the central issues. Viewers could spend hours looking for anagrams and formulae. And each character has some sort of fixation as they try to find meaning in life. As it becomes apparent that Eliza has tapped into a divine sort of inspiration, Saul is both hugely proud and uncontrollably jealous. Because it's what he hoped to achieve for himself. There are moments when we wonder about the sanity of all four members of this spiritually hungry family. And the film's weakest aspect is the fact that they're so deeply out of the ordinary.
On the other hand, this provocative introspection is the film's one original aspect. The directors elegantly and inventively craft a film that gets deep inside the characters to see what makes them tick. And the cast all deliver transparent, intriguing performances as people we can identify with, root for and also worry about. We can identify easily with the idea that "something is missing in life".
But when they start going on (and on) about how God speaks through words and letters, it starts feeling like both a silly religious thriller and a Kaballah induction film. Fortunately, the writer and directors have a strong sense of character and story, and also a witty, playfulness that keeps the film from being predictable. Images and themes swirl all over the place, but while it looks and feels lovely, we're never quite sure what it means.
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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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