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Nominated for 3 Academy Awards including Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) gives a "powerhouse performance" (New York Post) as a woman who passes as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. Some thirty years after donning men's clothing, she finds herself trapped in a prison of her own making. Also starring a prestigious international cast including Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Janet McTeer, Brendan Gleeson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, ALBERT NOBBS is a “terrific” (IndieWIRE) film adapted from the short story by Irish author George Moore.
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Glenn close portrays her character brilliantly. Employing makeup that does nothing to soften what being a 40-year-old working person might look like, she is only allowed changes in facial expressions to portray her character's inner life. Because of what is a very strictly hierarchical world almost every character in this movie is restricted in when, where and how they can express themselves. Consequently much of this movie is expressed with the same technique.
This is not a chick flick, a movie about the difficulties of being gay or lesbian, or merely a character study of how life was hard 175 years ago in Ireland. Consider what Ireland looked like 175 years ago. It was intensely Catholic, deeply divided along class lines, and consequently power flowed, often with a heavy hand, downward.
I've not seen it suggested elsewhere but I propose the following describes this very deliberately paced movie.
This movie is a tragedy. Albert Nobbs is one of life's victims. Hard, dedicated and loyal work combined with an extremely minimalist lifestyle has allowed her to accumulate money. She is very close to her goal of achieving some kind of independence. What is immediately obvious to the maid she attempts to court, is that the location Albert has chosen for her shop is poorly located. Consequently it will not support Albert's dream future. That is Albert's hard work and consistent saving, her life of sacrifice in favor of her dream, will end badly.
One of the themes introduced very early in this movie is the notion that a character who has any power over another will abuse that power. People can be fired for any reason, including jealousy or merely to please a passing if influential customer. In Albert's personal history older children abused her because they can. Even her employer, Ms. Baker, mostly a nice person is more feared than respected by her hotel staff. Throughout this movie it is clear that in a world where there is no enforcement of the concept of human dignity, there will be no recognition of human value.
This is a world with "prayer in school", everyone considers themselves a good Christian, and government is almost nonexistent. A typhus outbreak will cause the hotel to be placed in quarantine. This is the only appearance of government, and the only substantial use of power for good. No one in this world has union protection. No one would think of suing anyone. It is assumed that the more powerful may exert power in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
In the world of Albert Nobbs, companionship is necessary as much to support survival as to serve any human need, sexual or otherwise. A lover, a spouse, or any person with whom you can share intimacy represents the only person who was likely to recognize your value as a human being.
Clearly this is not an action movie or a light entertainment. If you are looking for background noise while you are doing other things or just an excuse to eat popcorn this is not your movie. If you have a couple hours to seriously think about what the world might look like if you are 100% self- dependent Albert Nobbs may help guide your thinking
Glenn Close does one of the most outstanding acting jobs in film history and compares to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker for skill and excellence. Only Elizabeth Taylor's performance in Who's afraid of Virginia Wolfe can top Glenn Close's performance. It is restrained and perfectly executed. This was also my first introduction to the actress Janet McTeer, who plays the role of a poor widow who takes on her deceased husband's name, masculine role, and profession to survive in an economically depressed Dublin. Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson play essential roles in the film and do an excellent job.
The story is compelling on a personal level and on a social justice level. Albert Nobbs is the story of a young illegitimate child placed in an orphanage and then raped as an adolescent who becomes a male waiter to survive financially. Albert dreams of being a small tobacco shop owner one day. However, the interactions with Mr. Sands, played by Janet McTeer, open Albert up to the idea of having a life partner who will help him with his business. A series of events follows that are tragic and yet part of the human frailty we all encounter.
The film is also an interesting study in gender and sexuality and is one of the best examples of separating gender identity and sexual desire. In this case economic and social forces put Albert into the position of assuming a male gender identity most of his life and not much is ever revealed about his sexual desires, only his desire for a companion in life, something surely we all deserve. Such an excellent film deserves a wide viewership. It is an exceptional film.