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Isabel Archer, an American heiress and free thinker travels to Europe to find herself. She tactfully rebuffs the advances of Caspar Goodwood, another American who has followed her to England. Her cousin, Ralph Touchett, wise but sickly becomes a soulmate of sorts for her. She makes an unfortunate alliance with the creepy Madame Merle who leads her to make an even more unfortunate alliance with Gilbert Osmond, a smooth but cold collector of Objets' de art who seduces her with an intense but unattainable sexuality. Isabel marries Osmond only to realize she's just another piece of art for his collection and that Madame Merle and Osmond are lovers who had hatched a diabolical scheme to take Isabel's fortune. Isabel's only comfort is the innocent daughter of Osmond, Pansy, but even that friendship is spoiled when Countess Gemini, Osmond's sister, reveals the child's true parentage. Isabel finally breaks free of Osmond and returns to Ralph's bedside, where, while breathing his last, they ... Written by
Teresa B. <O'Donnell@worldnet.att.net>
As underrated as The Piano is overrated. Superior psychology and story.
This review mainly focuses on the comparisons with The Piano.
A lot of people might say The Piano is a better movie. It is certainly a prettier movie with lush imagery and music, and especially the latter was somewhat lacking in this movie, in favor of a lot of dialogue.
Portrait of a Lady is still far superior to The Piano in terms of story, acting and psychological depth. Where The Piano wasn't much more of an excuse to put some very pretty images and music on film, this movie actually has very real characters that don't just serve as eyecandy. The same goes for the scenery. Although some scenes definitely look lush, most of the movie looks quite dark, with little light and a blueish color overall. Quite fitting the mood, because it is a tale of an unhappy woman, who, despite her (financial) independence, and plenty of male admirers, fails in finding freedom and happiness, by making the wrong choices in life.
John Malkovich is excellent as always as a dominant, insensitive and cruel husband, holding his daughter (from another marriage) perfectly on his leash, and attempting to do the same with Anne Archer who he marries. A far cry from the man we were supposed to hate in The Piano, but who I actually found sympathetic and felt sorry for (that was a difficult and unthankful role by Sam Neill, I think Campion was to blame). Mr. Osmond (Malkovich) was convincingly real and malicious, also because the character was reasonably well written and is pretty much the cause of everyone's misery, thus being the center of the story. Still, perhaps a little too onedimensional, but this seems to be a bit of a recurring Jane Campion flaw: we put a male character in a movie and we have to make him look evil, while the women are mostly kindhearted (tho I did find the Holly Hunter character in The Piano quite unsympathetic). It seems to me that Campion has a much greater understanding of the female psyche than that of the male.
Judging Portrait of a Lady overall, I have to conclude that it has excellent acting and a good tragic storyline that is involving enough. The camerawork and scenery serve their purpose, depicting a dark, somber environment in harmony with Anne's feelings (and to think that most of the film takes place in sunny Italy!). Some people may be however bored by the amount of dialogue and the lack of pace, and music. Others may find the main character too cold but I think she's not. Anne Archer is her own woman, a character well acted by Kidman, and has a good heart. She just seems to have trouble giving in to deeper desires, instead giving in to a destiny she believes to be hers, and thus suffering from a dominant husband. A popular theme among fin-de-siecle naturalist novels, the Inevitable Fate, and it is so ever tragically present here.
I think there should be a lot more costume dramas like this one. The only movies like this one, which I also recommend, is The Age Of Innocence, and The Remains Of The Day. I prefer these movies, and Portrait Of A Lady, over Jane Austen adaptations because those depict too small a world with teaparties and marriages as the only things that matter in life. Fin-de-siecle films are much better tragedies.
I give this one 7,5 out of 10.
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