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Midsummer night, 1894, in northern Sweden. The complex strictures of class bind a man and a woman. Miss Julie, the inexperienced but imperious daughter of the manor, deigns to dance at the servant's party. She's also drawn to Jean, a footman who has traveled, speaks well, and doesn't kowtow. He is engaged to Christine, a servant, and while she sleeps, Jean and Miss Julie talk through the night in the kitchen. For part of the night it's a power struggle, for part it's the bearing of souls, and by dawn, they want to break the chains of class and leave Sweden together. When Christine wakes and goes off to church, Jean and Miss Julie have their own decisions to make. Written by
Mike Figgis originally planned to make this with Nicolas Cage and Juliette Binoche. However, when he made _Leaving Las Vegas_ with Cage, the actor's salary was a manageable $200,000. Following his Oscar win, Cage's price shot up to $20 million. See more »
August Strindberg is one of Sweden's most important writers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Miss Julie' is one of Strindberg's plays written around the turn of the century. This is a powerful story of anger, hate, lust and class envy. The play revolves around two main characters. Jean (Peter Mullan) is a footman, a servant to a Count in northern Sweden in the late 1890's. Julie (Saffron Burrows) is the Count's shrewish and self loathing daughter.
Jean is tormented by his attraction to Julie and his simultaneous hatred of her class. The play focuses on an encounter they have one midsummer's night in the servants' kitchen. Jean takes his resentment out on Julie with sarcastic remarks and open disdain for the gentry of which she is a part. She responds sometimes docilely and contritely, and at others with condescending vitriol. This open antipathy belies their sexual attraction and the embattled conversation leads to a seduction, which is really less of a seduction than a mutual ravishment. Afterward, as Julie is more vulnerable, Jean attempts to manipulate her into stealing money from her father and running away with him so he can indulge his secret ambition to own a hotel and become a part of the upper class he now so despises. The film ends on a decided downbeat, which is no surprise given the characters' deeply disturbed personalities.
The story is intense, intelligent and visceral. It is has more the feel of a play (one set, crude props, only one or two costumes per actor). However, though the acting is more that of a theatrical production, it is shot more like a modern motion picture. Director Mike Figgis does a good job with the camera, using some innovative techniques to keep it from looking like you are watching a play through a window.
The story is likely to be appreciated by only a very small audience. Not only is it very dark, but all the characters are distasteful. Jean is angry, sardonic, obnoxious and manipulative. Julie is shrewish, condescending, self hating, and insecure. There is really no one with whom the audience can identify. This renders the entire story potent but extremely unpleasant. Also, it deals with themes that were mainstream in 1900, but are generally beyond the ken of today's audiences.
The actors were fabulously cast and the acting superb. Peter Mullen is short, craggy and Napoleonic, while Saffron Burrows is tall, willowy, and graceful. Besides being well cast for their stations, she was at least four inches taller than he, and this worked well with all the allusions to the aristocracy being `up there' and the servants being `down here'.
Peter Mullen played the part flat out. He was pugnacious and full of indignant rage, envy and spurn. The acclaim Saffron Burrows received for this performance was well deserved. She handled the difficult range of emotions deftly, moving effortlessly from whimpering child to haughty bitch and all the complex self torturing emotions in between.
I rated this film an 8/10. This is not a film for everyone. In fact it is a film that most people will probably dislike. I would recommend it for the ardent theatergoer who is a battle tested veteran of microscopic character studies involving flawed characters. To like this film you have to be one who can appreciate trying and disturbing emotional portrayals without a need to like any of the characters. For everyone else, it will probably be a harrowing and disagreeable experience.
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