Miss Julie

Class struggle. The aristocratic Julie and the servant Jean (Burrows and Mullan) play a game of social and sexual politics...
dir Mike Figgis scr Helen Cooper
with Saffron Burrows, Peter Mullan, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Tam Dean Burn, Heathcote Williams, Eileen Walsh, Sue Maund, Joanna Page, Andrea Ollson, Sara Li Gustafsson, Bill Ellis
99/US 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Figgis continues his experimental approach to cinema with Miss Julie, a faithful adaptation of the Strindberg play that takes place entirely in the kitchen of a huge manor house ... and features only three characters. It's a dark, edgy, disturbing examination of male-female interaction, extremely well-played and inventively filmed by Figgis who, as usual, composed the gorgeous score as well.

Miss Julie (Burrows) is the daughter of the count, a young woman rebelling against her standing in 1880s society. And as the midsummer's night party roars around her mansion, she heads for the kitchen, where she encounters her father's footman Jean (Mullan) and his fiancee Christine (Kennedy). But there's a spark of interest between Julie and Jean, and once Christine falls asleep, they begin a chess match of sexual and class politics that will obliterate all barriers between them ... and create new ones.

It's absolutely fascinating to watch the interplay between these two people, as each gains the upper hand, lashes out, struggles with their self-image and their place in society. And all three actors bring startling truth to their performances. Figgis, meanwhile, makes terrific use of the limited setting with very clever camera work, editing and action that moves from tender to terrifying and back again. Even so, the film's arty construction removes you one step from the situation, making it more observational and less emotionally resonant than it could have been. But it's still powerfully moving. And great to see a filmmaker succeed at something this difficult and original.

[adult themes and situations, language] 2.Jun.00
US release 10.Dec.99; UK release 1.Sep.00

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"Mike Figgis has never really gotten the credit he deserves as a true independent. Granted, his American films have always had a Jekyll and Hyde-ish quality (following up the moody fatalism of Leaving Las Vegas with the awkward One Night Stand) but even his failures are admirable and stubbornly ... well, Figgis-esque. His latest film, an adaptation of August Strindberg's costume play, may seem an odd choice at first, but Strindberg is not Jane Austen and his polemic mix of social and sexual politics are right up Figgis' alley. Burrows and Mullan star as the fragile aristocrat and her conniving, desperate footman who flirt, fight and eventually destroy each other in a couple hours time. Miss Julie's theatrical roots are obliterated by the immediacy of Figgis' direction (handheld camera, split screen, obviously phony sets) and the flawlessly intimate acting by the two leads. Meanwhile the terse dialogue (compliments of Strindberg I assume), as good as it is, can't hold a candle to the groundswell of emotion that arises as a single, silent tear runs down Burrows' perfect face, proving perhaps (as claimed Chabrol), that a close-up of a woman's face is the most interesting thing in the world. **** (out of five)" --Ryan M, Missouri.

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall