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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.
If there is a novel that doesn't lend itself for cinematic adaptation,
"Bee Season", written by Myla Goldberg, would seem to be the one. It
doesn't help that the screen play, as written by the talented Naomi
Foner Gyllenhaal, doesn't help to clarify for the casual viewer what is
going on with the Naumanns of Oakland. In fact, the problem in the
novel, as well as with the movie is Miriam, the distant mother who has
fled reality and lives in a world of her own.
"Bee Season" co-directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel feels empty because the somber treatment they have given to the movie. The dark cinematography of Giles Nuttgens doesn't help either, but the musical scores of Peter Nasher works well, as a whole.
One enters the Naumann world through the sensitive Eliza, a girl much older and wiser than her 11 years indicate. It is Eliza who senses all that is wrong with her family, as it appears they are falling apart in front of her, and as a little girl, she simply can't do anything at all to bring everyone together. As a way to escape the unhappy home, Eliza immerses herself in the spelling bee contests in which she excels. Not until then, does she get the attention of her father, who supports her newly found talent.
Saul, the religious studies professor, doesn't even come aware about what's wrong with his marriage until it's too late. In fact, he is a man appears to be unable to communicate with the illusive Miriam, a woman who is deeply disturbed by what happened in her own life with the tragedy of her parents death. Saul and Miriam's marriage is over, but they don't do anything to correct the situation. Miriam's problems come to a head when she is taken away and makes Saul confront the many issues that he probably never dealt with before.
Aaron, the older son, is rebelling against his own religion. He needs to experiment with other beliefs because he is at that stage of his life in which he is trying to find out who he is. That is why when he meets Chali, the young Hare Krishna follower, he decides to follow her in his quest for finding a guidance for his life.
The ensemble playing is dominated by the youngest cast member, Flora Cross, who makes a luminous Eliza. Her expressive eyes and her intelligence tells everything about her. Juliette Binoche's Miriam is a puzzle. Richard Gere does what he can with Saul and Max Minghella has some good moments as Aaron. Kate Bosworth is seen briefly as Chali.
"Bee Season" is a difficult film to sit through because it is a dark look into a family falling apart without a safety net. Also, the way the film has been promoted gives a false impression about its content.
In Bee Season, a film by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, a suburban
Oakland family discovers meaning and purpose in the Kabbalistic concept
of tikkun olam, translated as repairing the world. Adapted by Naomi
Foner Gyllenhaal (Running on Empty) from the novel by Myla Goldberg,
the film explores the subject of Jewish mysticism and its effect on a
dysfunctional family. Relying on the teachings of Isaac Luria, a 16th
century Jewish Kabbalist, Berkeley Professor Saul Naumann (Richard
Gere) instructs his students that God created the world by forming
vessels of light but, as He poured the light into the vessels, they
shattered and became countless shards. Thus, humanity's task is to free
and reunite the scattered Light and restore the broken world. Naumann
is an intellectual who reaches out to God but cannot connect with his
family and they mirror the broken shards rather than the Divine Light.
Saul is close to his musically gifted son Aaron (Max Minghella) with whom he shares a love of music but ignores his 11-year old daughter Eliza (Flora Cross) until her talent for spelling is recognized and she wins local and regional spelling bees. He takes advantage of the opportunity to become closer to her by training her for the national championship and encouraging her to explore the mystical states that he only relates to conceptually. He sees in Eliza the potential to put into practice the teachings of the Kabbalah scholar Abulafia that enlightenment can be achieved through alignment of letters and words. He tells her that "many cultures believe that letters are an expression of a special, powerful energy; that when they combine to make words, they hold all the secrets of the universe." Yet as Eliza and her father delve further into their studies, they forget to look around and see that the people around them are in trouble.
Aaron rejects his father's teachings and turns to Hinduism at the encouragement of a young woman named Chali (Kate Bosworth). He pretends to go on a weekend camping trip but instead dons orange robes and spends the time at a retreat for Hare Krishna followers, much to his father's displeasure. Unfortunately, the story treats his decision to explore a different faith as an adolescent lark rather than a legitimate spiritual quest and we never discover his true reasons for his interest. Meanwhile, Saul's wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche) has flashbacks of a car accident that killed her parents. She takes the phrase Tikkun Olam "to repair the world" - literally and steals small glittering objects from people's homes in order to reconstruct the world but her own world begins to spiral downward. The sub-plots are not well developed however, and the characters' behavior is insufficiently motivated to be plausible.
The heart of the film lies in the transformation that is taking place within Eliza, dramatized in the spelling bee competitions. Although she has never seen or heard of a particular word before, she is able to visualize it in different ways by concentrating with her eyes closed, depicted on screen by clever special effects. We follow the gifted speller as she moves through one competition after another and marvel at how she is able to remain centered while the world around her is crumbling. The acting is credible and Cross is a promising newcomer but Gere emotes too much personal warmth and "star quality" to be fully convincing as a self-centered, emotionally detached Jewish scholar.
Bee Season has a potent message in so far as it celebrates an individual's use of personal power to alter their experience of reality. The filmmakers, however, fail to clarify what the film is trying to say. Various threads compete for attention: Eliza's personal experiences of God, Saul's Kabbalistic teachings, Aaron's turn to Eastern religion, and Miriam's sickness, but none are sufficiently developed to make a coherent statement. Even the ending that is supposed to bring some resolution leaves us scratching our heads. Bee Season is a well-intentioned film that tackles an important subject but ultimately fails to fully explore the depth of its characters or the true meaning of its message, and I found its suggestion that a family can love God but not each other to be incongruous.
BEE SEASON is a strange little film that seems to polarize the public.
Though many have dismissed it as fragmentary and superficial, taking
the time to bear down on the issues merely touched upon yields an
emotional as well as spiritual experience not often found in films.
With a cast that includes Juliette Binouche and Richard Gere there
should be a hint there may be more to the film than a quick glance
Based on the highly successful novel by Myla Goldberg the story enters the household of a family of four: Saul (Richard Gere) is the father who is a professor of spiritual studies; Miriam (Juliette Binouche) is the mother suffering with demons from her past loss of her parents as a child leading her to grow without an intact family; Eliza (Flora Cross) is the daughter who seems content to watch TV instead of paying attention to her schooling; and Aaron (Max Minghella) is the son who excels at playing the cello and who is the focus of his father's life. When it is discovered that Eliza has a penchant for spelling and wins a spelling bee the focus of this family abruptly changes. Suddenly Saul moves his attention to Eliza, convinced that she has the power of the influx of God-knowledge (shefa) described by the Kabbalist Abraham Abulafia. This leads to his prepping her for her constant victories at spelling bees, but it also leaves Aaron without focus and he responds by seeking first Christianity then Hare Krishna for the meaning of his life. At the same time Miriam becomes more isolated and secretive and enters a state of depression that reflects her childhood loss and the need to accumulate 'things' in a number of ways that border on mental breakdown.
The film is best viewed, by the way, by first watching the featurette about the reasons for the making of the film - a wise commentary that gives us enough philosophical background to appreciate the message of the story that seemingly has eluded directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Watching the explanation of how religions all act to provide frameworks that should help individuals to piece together the fragments of existence that have been given to us as our lives serves to bring into focus how each of the four characters in this story is each on that journey for meaning. Once viewed, this featurette makes the movie far more meaningful and enjoyable.
The screenplay by Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal (yes, the mother of Maggie and Jake) is minimalist in technique of writing, giving just enough information about the big questions to make us work to paste the story together. The cinematography by Giles Nuttgens and special effects by Sean House are used extraordinarily well to underline the mysticism that permeates the film's story. Peter Nashel's musical score accompanies the otherworldly atmosphere that helps to bring the audience into the mood of the film.
This may not be a great film, but it is a unique one that calls upon the audience to think and free-associate with the characters, each of whom is well enacted by a strong cast. Well worth viewing. Grady Harp
I saw this film last night at the Toronto Film Festival. I am a fan of
the book, and wondered how the story could be successfully adapted as a
film. I worried that the ideas were too complicated, the characters too
subtle, to make the transition. When I heard that Richard Gere was
going to play the role of the father, I had more serious doubts.
(Richard Gere playing a Jew? Almost as ridiculous as Melanie Griffith!)
But I needn't have worried. The film is nearly a masterpiece. A subtle,
emotional journey through a world of spelling bees, Hare Krishna,
Kaballah, Kleptomania, and the gorgeously rendered interior spaces of
the imagination. Beautiful, original special effects, delightful
characters, great acting. The girl who plays the daughter is excellent,
as are the other actors. Juliette Binoche is heartbreaking and
mysterious, Richard Gere is perfectly cast as the self-absorbed
(Jewish!) father, and Anthony Minghella's son is also in the movie,
believe it or not, and he's very good.
There are changes from the book. But the overall feeling is very similar. The movie is neither as funny or as dark as Myla Goldberg's novel. But the end might be more emotionally satisfying. See for yourself! You won't be disappointed if you approach with an open mind. Not for the cynical, or for the action film junkie, but I found this a delightful, rich, and emotional journey. Definitely a 10! Put it on the Oscar watch.
I know most people don't give this movie a very good review and that's
unfortunate. It is a very deep movie and the viewer is made to think.
It's not the kind of movie where everything falls into place and
everything ends up happily ever after. If that is the kind of movie you
like then this one is not for you. If you like a movie that is deep and
has a very serious story line then this is the one.
I will try to put this in as simple terms possible; the story is mostly based around Saul Naumann, the father (Richard Gere) and his daughter Eliza (Flora Cross) both superbly acted by the way. Saul is a professor on the Jewish Religion and he very much wants to get closer to God but is unable to. Saul is a very domineering husband and father, very self-centered, so is unable to see the problems that are dividing the family, or maybe he sees it and doesn't want to admit it.
When his daughter begins to win at spelling bees he thinks that somehow Eliza is linked with God and that is how she sees the word and can spell it correctly. He begins teaching her like she was one of his students by using the thesis he wrote to become a professor. In this thesis it lays out the plan to get closer to God, he tried it for himself but couldn't, so he decides to try it on his daughter.
Saul's wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche) has many problems stemming back from the time her parents were killed in an auto accident when she was a young girl. I'm not going to go into specifics here but if you pay close attention to the scene where he is talking to his class you will understand how this is linked to Miriam's problem and how she has decided to solve it. Also pay attention to the scenes where I'm assuming they were fist married (flash backs) and he is explaining to Miriam the same thing he has been talking about with his class in that scene I mentioned. Because Saul is so domineering and self-centered he doesn't realize that she even has a problem until it all explodes and he finally becomes aware of what she is doing. Miriam tries to explain to Saul why she did what she did and if you listen closely to what she says you will understand.
The son Aaron (Max Minghella) has a good relationship with his father and is shown a lot of attention by him until Saul begins to spend more and more time with Eliza. I think Aaron may be a little jealous of Eliza because she is now getting all the attention but I don't think that is his real problem. I think he also wants to get closer to God and is not sure how so begins exploring other avenues other religions. He becomes involved with another religion and feels this may be what he has been looking for. When Saul finds this out all hell breaks loose and he finally realizes that the whole family has many problems.
Meanwhile Eliza thinks she is the reason for all that is happened and tries to converse with God to correct it. By this time Saul is convinced that God is interacting with Eliza when they go to the final spelling bee, The Nationals.
This is just a very basic outline of the movie, of course I have left out a lot of the movie because I don't want to give too much away and you should see this for yourself and come to your own conclusions. Give this movie a chance and I think you will like it.
No one of the characters acquires the slightest level of credibility in this failed attempt to produce a movie with a touch of transcendence. The first philosophical comments by Richard Gere promise -at least for the connoisseur- a glimpse into the deeper side of human life that, unfortunately, never comes to get going in this insipid movie. The presence of French Juliette Binoche -a delightful actress- is insufficient to get this movie out of the hole of inconsistency and nonsense. Nothing seems real, the characters are completely undeveloped. The audience is deluded into believe that this movie is going to tell something insightful about Inner quest, mystic search and emotional alienation in close relationships. The movie seems a failed try to mix the American look with the European touch in movie making.The author, director ad crew, must keep looking to produce something meaningful of the sort. Richard Gere (as well as has happened to Kevin Costner) needs to find a way out of this dreadful trail of later. His fans -and I am one of them- are sill waiting!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Several other reviewers have commented on the fractured nature of this
film. It appears to be a Kabbalistic approach to healing shattered
reality, put together as a parable.
I know very little about Kabbalism, so that may be why so many pieces were nonsensical to me. Some things, however, were clear on reflection. Eliza's choice at the end was a redemptive sacrifice. It was a way of turning Saul's obsession back upon itself, so he, when he was brought up short by the apparent disaster, would be accessible once again to his family. The final implications are that she is successful in this, and happy with her choice. Eliza also connects with her mother through the camera, and apparently starts her back on the road to healing.
There are some very nice uses of glass and kaleidoscope imagery as metaphors of shattered personality and lives, particularly for the mother, but for all the characters to some extent.
All of that makes sense, but as a whole, it just doesn't work. The mother has apparently been in a psychotic break for many years, and no one noticed? The son, who seems to have a close relationship with both his father and his sister, responds to the father's extra time with Eliza for the bee with petulant jealousy, and finally runs off to join the Hari Krishnas, without any indication of why he is searching or why the traditions of his family do not work for him. His motivation seems to be nothing more than an exceedingly pretty face.
The daughter, Eliza, is the hardest one to believe of all -- even though she is masterfully represented. In an unusual form of Deus Ex Machina, she restores the shattered family by having paranormal abilities, and then denying those abilities as a sacrifice to redeem the ones she loves. (I suspect this is part of Kabbalistic mysticism, but I don't know.) In one spoken letter, she brings sanity back to her shattered family, reeling in all the fragmented pieces, just as her father had described, and her mother had tried and failed to do. It's a nice idea for a parable, but I found the final answer too pat, the mystical portions glossing over frightful danger, and the pain of the family both believably intense yet unbelievably represented, and I could not believe the solution.
Maybe it is because my own spiritual views are vastly different from the writers, but it was painful to watch, and neither satisfying nor helpful.
Imagine growing up in a family of academics, musicians, and Jewish mystics. When 12-year-old Eliza (Flora Cross) wins both the district and regional spelling bees, her father, Saul (Richard GereJewish mysticism, begins to tutor her daily. Not only is he preparing her for the state spelling bee competition, but Saul is also training his daughter to be the mystic he wasn't able to become. Bee Season is not only a movie about meditation, but it is also itself a meditation. This family is consumed with finding God, but they all look outside of the family to find it, and in the process, the family falls apart. Eliza's older brother Aaron (Max Minghella) is so jealous that his sister is getting all of the family's attention that he goes off and joins a Buddhist cult, and everyone in the family is so focused on their own problems that no one notices the mother (Juliette Binoche) going slowly insane! Bee Season is transcendent and thought-provoking, and it even makes me want to go out and look for God.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am coming to believe that no effective movie can be deeply spiritual.
We know the problem with cinematic love: how do you show it? Sex?
Placed in the midst of larger flows like war?
Mystical forces are similar, internal. A bond, a sway that cannot be seen by definition, cannot be visually displayed.
Its a real challenge for the serious filmmaker who is tired of stories about spiritual awakening as sports contests. The solution we have here is clever. Yes, I know it was solved first in a novel, that the larger structure wasn't immediately intended for the eye. But what the author and screenwriter put together is very good cinema if somewhat stupid on the spiritual side.
The first thing is how the idea is surrounded by the four characters. Ostensibly, the display is anchored and explained by the father. He plays double duty, teaching (in words) about the mystical tradition he studies, professes and failed in his attempt to follow. He also provides the human problem of blind expectations that haunts the others in his family. Its a tired formula, even if the spiritual piece is substituted for the more common failures, and wouldn't be enough if the supposed secondary stories didn't eclipse it.
The apparently number two character is the daughter who wins spelling contests because she has this gift, this insight that her father lacks. This coincidence: of the mystical tradition and the spelling of words by deep "seeing" is what makes the story work, and also happens to be the thing that makes it antispiritual at least so far as it selfadvertises. More about that in a minute.
Then there's the older son. Oh, this is when the Jewish imposition comes: the son is simply rebelling, and it matters that he leaves a religion of the written word for a chanted one. Dramatically, this is the least interesting occlusion, though it shows that the author understood how words play in the thing.
Finally, the mother. We are seeing this movie primarily through the eyes of the dad, so the mother's actions seem at first inexplicable and incidental. Later we are convinced she is mad and was so from the beginning. Under the spell of her husband's spiritual notions, she engages in an obvious misunderstanding of what it means. Or so we are meant to believe.
The structure of the thing is why I want to recommend it to you, but the spiritual message is off. Perhaps necessarily so, as I'll explain.
Here's the plot: Father studies Kabbalah. Daughter apparently has the gift he studies. The Dad's understanding of Kabbalah is one that novices have, that words carry the essence of the thing, so their constituents (namely the letters) are the atoms of God's breath in the world, motivating and reflecting all in creation and creation itself.
So when the daughter closes her eyes in the contest and "sees" the letters assemble, she is one with the coupling force of God. She is an adept. Meanwhile, her mother is ill and the daughter discovers this right before the ultimate context. She performs the forbidden Kabbalistic exercises right before this contest so that she has the powers of a fuller adept.
She deliberately loses the contest, thereby healing her mother, and surprising her father with her wisdom. That's the story a novice viewer will see. But the point and construction is that there is an alternate flow here. I've told you the apparent plot so that you can imagine the realer one underneath.
The dramatic tension isn't between father and daughter, but daughter and mother. The father is a doofus, who makes the same mistake we as viewers do. In Kabbalah, there are several blinds, just as in a way the Bible itself is supposed to be a blind to first level of Kabbalah. In that first level, is the stuff the father spouts in this movie, that letters matter, or that they denote some ineffable spiritual soulflies.
This is the stuff of the modern Kabbalah Institute we know from yearning movie celebrities. Real Kabbalah is beyond that, beyond its Jewish confines, escaping into softer and broader Christian, Mulsim and alchemical Judaic wisdom (mostly from the Spanish confluence). It is, as it happens usually visual and folded. In fact, my own awareness of this tradition comes from study of folded narrative.
(The girl's last two spelling words are "syllogism" and "origami.")
Just as within the story there is a deeper vision beyond what you see, so is there a deeper story. The mother is the adept. Her actions seem insane to her husband, and therefore us. But she is the one who turns her relationships (all of them, including the sex), into the ability to influence events. As with any magi, she does this indirectly through others, invisibly. All the others will think they are in control in some important way, but they are not.
I would like to recommend this to you for the way it is put together. It is cinematically something between "Beautiful Mind" and "Pi" but far, far better than they in conveying what it is like to be a mathematical mystic. The tradition hinted here, the one that envisions the world geometrically, is the parent of what we now call mathematics.
I recommend you take the movie seriously (perhaps more seriously than the directors) and see the underlying story, whatever you may recognize.
But the spiritual notions on the surface are as mundane as the politics in "V for Vendetta," If you want better mysticism in this tradition, go to "Ninth Gate" and "Drowning by Numbers." The former brings inner visions to cinema and the latter the other way around. Or perhaps "Andrei Rublov" for the travails of an artist in this quest.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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