The path of Francesca Johnson's future seems destined when an unexpected fork in the road causes her to question everything she had come to expect from life. While her husband and children are away at the Illinois state fair in the summer of 1965, Robert Kincaid happens turn into the Johnson farm and asks Francesca for directions to Roseman Bridge. Francesca later learns that he was in Iowa on assignment from National Geographic magazine. She is reluctant seeing that he's a complete stranger and then she agrees to show him to the bridges and gradually she talks about her life from being a war-bride from Italy which sets the pace for this bittersweet and all-too-brief romance of her life. Through the pain of separation from her secret love and the stark isolation she feels as the details of her life consume her, she writes her thoughts of the four-day love affair which took up three journals. The journals are found by her children after the lawyer was going over Francesca's will and ... Written by
Mark Fleetwood <email@example.com>
A cinematic silk purse from a literary sow's ear ...
I only managed about two pages of the book before feeling physically ill by the trite dialogue, heavy dependence on cliche and ham fisted, adolescent romance prose style. So a film of the book 'The Bridges of Madison County' did not fill me with joy and pleasureable anticpation.
Yet Clint Eastwood has waved a magic wand, and worked wonders on the lack lustre source material, by pairing it down to produce a beautiful, warm film with only one real flaw (more on that later)
The film's overwhelming main strength is the casting of Meryl Streep. As Francesca she dissolves into the role - at times her gestures and dialogue seem so natural and unforced it is as if Eastwood had installed a fly-on-the-wall camera into the house of a real Iowan housewife. She lifts the film - which does centre on themes which could appear trite in the wrong hands - to the level of profound piece of art. Her selflessness and devotion to her family, and tortured sense of divided loyalites are presented so powerfully, and so plausibly, that the final scene in the car at the end (those who've seen it will recall immediately what I mean) pulls at your emotions so hard you'd swear it was you who was making the decision. I defy anyone with a pulse not to shed copious amounts of tears at this point --- you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved on some level by this great, great performance.
Clint Eastwood provides good, solid support in the sense that he doesn't overact, and allows Meryl to become the heart of the film. This is a wise decision - part of the terrible weakness of the book was its dependence upon the inane thoughts and ramblings of Robert Kincaid. The film is beautifully directed, beautifully photograhed and beautifully scored - the radio tunes and the non-diegetic Bridges Love theme really enhance the romantic, lush tone and mood of the film.
My only problem is with the misguided decision to cast Francesca's older children and flash back periodically to them reading through their Mother's journals. The acting in these parts is mediocre at best, and they detract from the elegance and poignant mastery of Meryl Streep's central performance. The ashes scene at the end is - I feel - necessary for closure, but the rest of the scenes featuring the chldren should have been scrapped. The Francesca and Robert sections stand alone and require no interruption - these other segments cheapen the mastery of Meryl.
Above all, this is a film which (on paper) can be dismissed as pure soap opera. But it transcends these potentially trite themes to make a universal story of love, selflessness, devotion and choice, that speaks eloquently to the viewer, no matter what your age or experience. It's a truly heartbreaking tale of transitory experience and the power of memory. It will make you think about your own life, and about your closest family members and relationships.
And its finest quality has to be the magic of Meryl Streep who proves, yet again, why she is uniquely the best actress we have ever had. As Clint Eastwood said about casting this role: 'I only made one phonecall'. He knew as you will too - no other actress could have brought so much depth, warmth, beauty, charisma and humanity to this character. As a humble film lover, it's all I can do to applaud her from the depths of my heart. Bravo, Queen Meryl!
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