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In 1904, in Dublin, James Joyce chats up Nora Barnacle, a hotel maid recently come from Galway. She enchants him with her frank, direct and uninhibited manner, and before long, he's convinced her to come with him to Trieste, where he has a job with Berlitz. Over time, Nora pulls him through phobias, tolerates his drinking, takes in his brother Stan, and bests Joyce at 'the writin' game' to bring him back to Italy from Dublin where he's gone to open a cinema. But his sexual jealousy threatens the relationship and sends her back to Galway with the children. Is there any way to tame Jim's green-eyed monster? And, will the lad ever get his stories published? Written by
Living in the midwestern US, it's not as if I expected to ever get a chance to see "Nora" in the theaters. To be honest I wasn't that interested in seeing the film, which I'd heard little about, but during a recent visit with film fanatic relatives in DC a viewing of "Nora" at the Ireland Festival was on the schedule.
Gag me, I thought, an "art film," but I have to admit I was surprised. I've read a lot of Joyce's work (which I've always liked) so I was disappointed at first that the film didn't focus more on the creative process, but the story of Joyce and Nora Barnacle was pretty intriguing in and of itself.
I went surfing for info about this nice little film when I got back home; Susan Lynch is every bit as wonderful as the meager number of net reviews I could find say she is. She gives a striking and memorable performance as the woman who inspired Molly Bloom. Nora's tenacity in the face of Joyce's neuroses and abusive behavior was both awe inspiring and frustrating to behold; Lynch's brilliant performance alone made the film worth seeing. Not to say that McGregor wasn't good in the role of Joyce, but if I were forced to choose one performance over the other in this film to honor it would be hers. Give McGregor credit for having enough savvy to play his role understated enough to allow his co-star to shine. His ability to imbue the neurotic and manipulative Joyce with some humanity without going over the top and stealing Lynch's thunder is noteworthy. Not many actors could have pulled this off. He's one of the few that could.
"Nora" has some problems. It meanders in places and tends to overanalyze the "problems in their relationship" but it is a gorgeous looking film featuring a volatile partnership that is vibrant and alive if nothing else--overwrought without being boring, disarmingly sexy without being too crass (I did blush in a few places!) Not a perfect screenplay, but a good one. The performances make the film. I was pleasantly surprised.
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