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Living in Oakland, California, the Naumanns are outwardly a loving, supportive family. Husband and father Saul Naumann is a Religious Studies professor, and looks to his religious training in Judaism as tenets for his family to live. He has high expectations for all members of his family. His mid-teen son, Aaron Naumann, idolizes his father, and does whatever he can to please him. His pre-teen daughter, Eliza Naumann, often feels the neglected child. So when Saul eventually learns that Eliza is participating and excelling in spelling bees, she becomes the focus of his life as he believes that letters in the form of words will lead to answers to the universe. That change in focus to Eliza makes Aaron now feel the neglected one, he who strikes out quietly in his own way with the help of Chali, a young woman he meets. But the person who has felt the most pressure within Saul's way of life is his wife, Miriam Naumann, a microbiologist. She converted from Catholicism to Judaism when she ... Written by
Jonathan Murphy auditioned for the part of Aaron Naumann. See more »
The writing on the chalkboard (especially the underlines) changes between shots when Aaron and Eliza visit Saul while he is teaching his class. See more »
National Spelling Bee Pronouncer:
Number 14. Eliza Naumann, Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California. "Oppidan".
My father told me once that words and letters hold all the secrets of the universe. That in there shapes and sounds, I could find everything and see beyond myself, to something special. Perfect. My father told me once that I could reach the ear of God.
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I Wish More Had Been "Spelled Out" For The Audience
Since I have not read the novel upon which Bee Season is based, I cannot evaluate the film's interpretation of the book. It seems, however, that there is more occurring within the characters of this story that is not stated or developed within the screenplay. And unfortunately more needed to be conveyed, and developed in order for this film to affect the audience in a useful way.
Plot Summary: The film is about an intellectual, dynamic family. Eliza (Flora Cross) enters a school spelling bee, wins, and soon realizes she has the ability to visualize words and their correct spelling. She says she feels and sees the word "talking to her." Her father, Saul Naumann (Richard Gere), a professor of Judaic Mysticism at a San Francisco university later decides that Eliza has the unique ability to speak to God. He becomes preoccupied with nurturing and developing this "gift" within his daughter, and in the process falls out of touch with his son Aaron (Max Minghella), who becomes disillusioned with his faith in Judaism and rebels against the influences of his father. Aaron begins studying Buddhism after meeting a female romantic interest who is sympathetic to his expressed feelings of emptiness and detachment. Saul's Wife, Miriam (Juliette Binoche), struggles with her own detachment from reality as she continues to mourn the death of her parents who died in an accident when she was young girl.
My Analysis: Like some of the characters in the film, I too left the film somewhat empty, or unfulfilled. I wanted to know more about what was going on with this family. The relationship between Gere's character and his son is somewhat familiar -- a son rebels against a father who is too strongly pushing his faith and interests. This form of rebellion seems typical of most adolescents. The mother and daughter share the unusual relationship; both of whom seem to possess certain supernatural powers. While it is the daughter's power to visualize and spell that is the focal point of the film, it may well be a similar ability that drives her mother to mental illness. The relationship between them should have been developed more, however.
I wanted to know what the mystical-supernatural ability meant, but the screenplay doesn't explain much, and this is frustrating. In addition, when it becomes apparent that Miriam is suffering from a severe mental disorder and continues to mourn the death of her parents, I questioned why her husband was so utterly unaware of her suffering as it had been going on for some time. He was an intelligent man who had great concern for the welfare of his family, and it didn't seem to fit his character.
The film might merely be about a domineering father and the influence his beliefs have over his family. But I'm hoping it's more than that. The story goes to pains to make it clear that there is a very real supernatural element at work here, but the film doesn't do enough to convey what this means and why it's important. I appreciate movies that are efficient, that don't hold my hand through everything and that give me credit for making inferences to tie a storyline together, or even leave the story purposely ambiguous so as to allow for interpretation, but in the case of the Bee Season, the subject matter is too abstruse and the story is too underdeveloped. I could not reach a satisfactory understanding of what occurred and why it was important.
The acting was strong, however. Binoche, Gere and company make the best of an underdeveloped script. The quality of the acting makes the problems with the script even more frustrating because it seems like this film could have been much more.
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