Top positive review
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Better than the novel
on December 6, 2009
I saw this movie in a theatre 25 years ago, shortly after having read Henry James' novel, and I remember how impressed I was not only by the movie's accuracy, delicacy, splendour and faithfulness to the novel, but also by the fact that it manages to "repair" some shortcomings of Henry James' early novel.
I have been longing to watch it again ever since, so I eventually bought the DVD. Redescovering it, I was surprised by its incredible freshness and newness, after so many years. It is, indeed, a superb adaptation of James' novel, and one of the most interesting Ivory/Merchant film.
The October New England landscapes are breathtaking, costumes have authenticity, dialogues are spontaneous, and the script features without effort or ostentation the differences between the European and the American mentalities and behaviours; the atmosphere is as genuine as it can be rendered in a movie.
Acting is exceptional; the gradual symptoms of love in the main characters (the two young Americans and their European cousins) are incredibly well expressed: we witness their delight, astonishment, fever, torments, doubts, pain. But far from being graphically shown, the feelings are mostly suggested, so we guess, beyond the self-imposed discretion and reserve, the strong dilemmas and the inner fights. The real drama and utter changes in the characters' lives are like whirlpools under the perfectly calm surface of a lake. This contributes to the (false) impression of slowness or stagnation of the movie--and this, in spite of the multitude of events that occur so naturally, "comme si de rien n'était".
The characters' strong individuality is well depicted, the Wentworths naivety and simplicity is touching, Eugenia's (Lee Remick--amazing!) sophistication is truthful. The ending (one marriage and one painful separation, the latter because of the beautiful European woman's "decadence") also represents a great achievement in the movie: managing to avoid any moralizing preach (or inference), the filmmakers offer an elusive, smooth, easily-flowing, almost smiling ending.
I strongly recommend this movie to anyone who searches aesthetic pleasure, subtle acting and also loves Henry James.