Solomon and Gaenor

Solomon (Gruffudd) realises that Gaenor's brother Crad (Jones) is following him ... and doesn't want to be friends.
dir-scr Paul Morrison
with Ioan Gruffudd, Nia Roberts, Sue Jones Davies, Maureen Lipman, Mark Lewis Jones, William Thomas, David Horovitch, Steffan Rhodri, Bethan Ellis Owen, Adam Jenkins, Daniel Kaye, Emyr Wyn, Rhys Evans
FilmFour 99/Wales 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
With clear echoes of Romeo & Juliet, writer-director Morrison's Solomon and Gaenor is a stunningly atmospheric Welsh romance about young lovers from opposing communities. Set in 1911, the film vividly examines the divide between working class miners and well-to-do Jewish shopkeepers in a small Welsh village. When door-to-door fabric salesman Solomon (Gruffudd), an Orthodox Jew, locks eyes with the lovely-but-Protestant Gaenor (Roberts), he knows he can't tell her who he really is. He introduces himself to her parents (Davies and Thomas) as "Sam", the Englishman. But Gaenor's miner brother Crad (Jones) thinks there's something not quite right ... namely, that "Sam" does woman's work! Meanwhile, Solomon's parents (Lipman and Horovitch) can't understand why he's so rarely at home, and why he's neglecting his religious studies.

With gorgeous yet gritty cinematography (by Nina Kellgren) and gently powerful performances, the film builds its emotional tension steadily from start to finish. This is a bit of a problem about halfway through, when you really need some energy, emotional or otherwise, to keep you interested. Even the miner's strike, which brings out feelings of impotence in Crad and his mates, erupts in a violence that feels completely internal, despite the fact that they take out their rage on the most accessible target, the Jews. As a result, the film seems to drag and almost grind to a halt as it winds to its extremely emotional conclusion, beautifully filmed in a gruelling snowscape. Even so, the film is immaculately produced--from the astonishing performances (especially from Roberts) to a lovely musical score (by Ilona Sekacz). It also adds to the authenticity that much of the film's dialogue is spoken in Welsh or Yiddish (with subtitles)--vividly demonstrating the gulf between the communities. But it's the moments of raw feeling throughout the film that make it unforgettable.

[15--themes, sexual situations, violence] 1.Mar.99
UK release 30.Apr.99; US release 25.Aug.00

Nomination: Best Foreign Film (Oscar 00)

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"I saw this film over a week ago, and haven't been able to shake it. Is this what Aristotle meant by 'pity and terror?' The hopelessness and the tenderness overwhelmed me. I forgot that it was a film with actors. That's usually a sign that the acting was excellent. I couldn't see outside the frame. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare at least gives us something at the end, the reconciliation and resolve to do better from both families. More realistically, in this film we have nothing at the end but the finality and pointlessness of the suffering." --Jean Goldfine, net.

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1999 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall