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Saw this at the Venice film festival last week. It had quite a few walk
outs near the beginning (probably the strong Yorkshire accents with
lots of background noise made it unintelligible for non native English
speakers) and they were the lucky ones as it certainly did not improve
over the following 2 hours.
The director's main aim seemed to be to try and shock audiences who thought they were coming to an Emma Thompson type costume drama by making the film as morose as possible and throwing in lots of swearing, violence and a bit of necrophilia. Unfortunately the only shocking thing was that they had managed to make such a bad film out of a classic novel.
There were numerous petty things which annoyed me about this film, e.g. the use of pathetic fallacy with the weather is way over the top (the Earnshaws live under a constant biblical downpour whereas there rich neighbours in the next door valley have a climate from a fruit juice advert); the cameraman either had Parkinson's or had been previously employed in one of those American police series where reality is represented by a constantly jerky camera; the actors playing the adult Cathy and Heathcliff look nothing like their younger selves - Heathcliff even appears to have changed race!; would a 19th century strict Christian father be happy with someone sleeping with his teenage daughter in the house?; would a 19th century Heathcliff be able to swan around Edgar house willy nilly? I could go on.
Most importantly I think the director fails completely in making us feel any sympathy for her characters. Heathcliff has a hard time of it in his youth but has no redeeming features. It's not helped by the fact that the actor playing the adult Heathcliff is atrociously bad at his job.
I have no problem with making Wuthering Heights dark and brooding but make it a bit less daft.
Like other reviewers I have read Emily Bronte's novel, but I am not
sure we were reading the same book. My strongest impression from first
reading was wonder that the book could be so engaging without a single
character with whom to identify.
The characters in Wuthering Heights are unlikeable; Heathcliff and Hindley are downright nasty. Hatred, contempt and jealousy are the overriding emotions of the story. Certainly there is love strong passionate love too but it lives in dark corners and is ultimately destructive.
This film captures much of the emotion of the book. The first half, with Heathcliff, Catherine and Hindley as children is played very well indeed.
Heathcliff's character is determined in these early years at Wuthering Heights, and so it is in the film. When Heathcliff returns as an adult, inexplicably played by another actor, his heart has hardened and revenge, hatred and violence dominate his character. But James Howson who plays the adult Heathcliff is not up to the task, and nor it appears is the direction. Heathcliff is certainly violent, but this is mostly directed against animals seemingly as means of relieving his frustrations, rather than the depiction of a genuinely violent man. His appalling treatment of Isabelle is largely glossed over and the film ends before he starts abusing Hareton. Hatred, contempt and jealousy are expressed mainly by close-ups of facial expressions, and here Howson in the finery of his wealth only seems able to portray smugness.
The film lacks a point of view. The camera-work suggests the film is intended to show things from Heathcliff's perspective, but much seems to be deliberately obfuscated where Heathcliff would have known exactly what was going on. The audience is continually kept in the dark, emphasised by the rain, mist and long nights on the moors and, just in case we haven't got the idea, by repeated scenes shot out of focus. This is all very well, adding to atmosphere, but the book manages to bring the reader into the story; this film seeks to distance the audience, as voyeurs only. The people we see are the same people we read about and with much the same character. The children, it is true, were interesting to watch; but when Heathcliff went away, returning without comment played by a different actor (and Catherine too for that matter, but Kaya Scodelario played her role better; she had less to do), I found I no longer cared about any of them.
Heathcliff played as a black man works well. He is clearly of foreign extraction in the book Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen although equally clearly not 'a regular black' (also a quote). A black Heathcliff is far more convincing than an obviously white English one.
The language is also rather more 'colourful' than in the book. But this too seems to be justified. It sounds true enough to me and I did not detect any neologisms. It must be pretty impenetrable to non-native English speakers, but there is precious little of it. I know Heathcliff is taciturn, but the silences are unbearable. Even the book has Nelly Dean to carry the dialogue.
Finally there is the ending. The book more or less describes the story backwards, starting long after the film has ended and showing Heathcliff in his ultimate form. The film, quite rightly in my opinion, is in chronological order (barring some unnecessary and distracting flashbacks) and covers only Heathcliff's relationships with Catherine and Hindley. The ending is well chosen in terms of plot, but totally undermines whatever integrity the film had, for the entire film is shot without a background soundtrack. What we hear are the sounds of nature, songs being sung, out of tune and out of time but utterly in character. A poor band playing a mournful Christmas hymn (the Coventry Carol, is it?), branches tapping on a window, even though this last does not sound quite right, all add to the film's bleakness. But then, with only about a minute to go till the end, there intrudes a modern song played on modern instruments in a studio. I quite like Mumford and Sons, but what on earth is that song doing there? At least it could have started after the credits began to roll; the mood destroyed, this is one film I did not stay to read them.
Andrea Arnold's take on a well-known tale falls flat for a number of
reasons. Her hand-held camera, non-linear montage, and bouts of
frenzied physicality arguably complement her two tales of modern ennui
and angst, Red Road and Fish Tank. However, they seem incongruous
matched against a classic from the literary canon. The audience coming
along expecting to see a period piece are getting a surprise, and
unfortunately it is not a pleasant one. They were the ones walking out
at the screening I went to. The writing was on the wall when their
heart sank as the curtains whirred into place and settled on a 4:3
aspect ratio. That was a bizarre decision - these moors, this
landscape, demand widescreen.
The decision to spend most of the film with the early years of Heathcliff and Cathy also seems ill-conceived, as the two youngsters frolic in the mud for an eternity without the story moving forward very much. They are earthy people of and from the land, the film screams, like the interminable procession of animals we see depicted. We get that in the first ten minutes - the rest of the time we are just going over established territory.
The return of the now successful Heathcliff in the latter half of the film means the grown up cast having the same effect as substitutes in a football game - imbibing the audience/spectators with a glimmer of hope. Alas, it is not to be, as the actor playing Heathcliff is wooden beyond belief, pipping the actor playing Edgar for the prize. The actresses around them can act, but it is a poor return on the ticket price. The film overtly attempts to appeal on visual grounds and as a result dialogue appears to have been an after-thought, as most lines are flat and predictable. The racial epithets are not shocking; they seem more a cynical ploy to garner publicity.
TV frame, incongruous mise-en-scene, poor casting and dodgy racial politics - any one of these could sink a film, but all four together is a very tough sell. The biggest sin, however, is to take Wuthering Heights and imbue it with absolutely no passion at all. The moors look suitably wild, and there is a strong sense of mud, but beyond that there are few positives to take from this film.
This is a film about domestic violence, racism, cycles of abuse. It
contains many scenes involving the infliction of pain. This is quite
apart from the love story. So why did it leave my partner and I so
unemotionally affected, apart from the rush of relief at leaving the
Wuthering Heights started well for me; I thought I was going to enjoy the experience of wild moorland, naturalism, authentic dirt, etc. Unfortunately, too little attention seemed to be paid to the quality of some of the cast's acting (some of which was, frankly, embarrassing) and after the nth roll on the wet moorland grass I began to lose patience with the lack of attention to the narrative detail.
Yes, the moors looked fantastic. Yes, we got that life was grim.
But the affectation of the hand-held camera is a metaphor for the film as a whole. It wobbles about and makes you feel a bit nauseous. And then it does it over and over again and again until you want to beg for mercy.
Only months after I read the 1847 Emily Brontë novel and saw the 1993
film adaptation, along comes yet another version of this enigmatic
work. Director Andrea Arnold has taken a bold approach to her
interpretation that, like all movie representations of books, has its
strengths and weaknesses.
The boldest feature of the film is its casting of Heathcliff as black (Solomon Glave as the youngster and James Howson as the self-made man). Brontë describes Heathcliff as notably dark and Arnold - who co-wrote the script - has taken the character a significant step further in a manner which underlines Heathcliff's difference from the country folk. The accents are well done with young Cathy (Shannon Beer) perhaps better than older Catherine (Kaya Scodelario). The photography is wonderful with stunning views of the Yorkshire Dales (such a contrast to the more frequent very tight shots) and the sound is brilliant with a real sense of the wild natural setting.
Set against these undoubted virtues, it has to be said that the dialogue is so sparse (and sometimes muted) that, unless one has read the novel, it's often unclear what's going on and, even if you've read the novel, you sometimes yearn for the film to get a move on and, while some of the exchanges are taken straight from the novel, others are so crude that one cannot imagine Brontë ever penning such vulgarities. The leisurely pace means that, like all except the 1992 version, this one can only deal with the first half of Brontë's uncomfortable, indeed bleak, tale, so that one does not see the full, sustained vindictiveness of the anti-hero.
Hareton disturbed me the most in this film based on Wuthering Heights.
Dour before his time, he appears now and then in the early scenes, a
dirty blonde-haired urchin, to gawp at visitors, or to witness violent
abuse from the sidelines. In the final scene, he is seen hanging up
dogs by their collars. The depiction of Hareton is related to the
'cruelty breeds cruelty' message in Andrea Arnold's film and in Emily
Brontë's novel, if that can be seen, glibly, as a straight deliverer of
messages. Considerable respect has been shown to the original: a fair
amount of thought and research seems to have gone into finding out what
was in Emily Brontë's mind and how she saw her characters, and into the
late eighteenth century in Yorkshire. All the artefacts stoneware
jars, spades for digging out peat and so on look as if they have been
borrowed from a folk museum, the costumes appear to be authentic, and
Heathcliff is black. All perfectly credible.
The unknown James Howson from Leeds was cast as the adult Heathcliff, with the equally unknown Solomon Glave as his young version. We do not find out which language he speaks when he first arrives, because there is very little speaking in the whole film. It is not dialogue- free, employing a few sentences and phrases from the novel, rather like the quotes a candidate might fish out for an A-level essay, with more of them in the film's second half, after Heathcliff's return, than in the first. At other times, the words which the characters use seem to have grown from improvisation sessions, giving the action a kind of Ken Loach feel at times. To leave out most of Emily Brontë's beautiful prose and the second half of her story, as usual are bold moves which a few literary folk might find outrageous. I can fully understand the opinions of those who might describe the film as 'coarse and disagreeable', but then the structure of the novel does not match the needs of the cinema. Unlike Cary Fukunaga, who retained as many of Charlotte's words as possible in his Jane Eyre, Andrea Arnold has gone in an opposite direction, because she has decided not to bother with conventional costume dramas.
This Wuthering Heights relies on cinematography, the impact of fresh and young actors (eat your heart out, Stanislavski), an authentic period feel and a powerful, often startling harshness. Arnold has said that she "had to pick out the things that had resonance to me" and that she wanted to give the children plenty of time at the beginning.
This was a good move, because the children are by far the most interesting. Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer have "not acted before", but manage to be fascinating, holding everything together for an hour. Full marks to Arnold there. The story is told through sounds and sights: we see the boy's amazement and disorientation when he arrives, Cathy's warm smile the only warmth a feather brushing a cheek, his hand on the horse's rump when he rides behind her, his smelling of her hair, the weals on his back after a beating by Joseph, her mouth as she licks the blood from them, their crude and muddy sexual fumbling out on the moors. Sensual imagery with a vengeance! Raw teenage emotion in our faces! And I loved Shannon Beer's charming rendition of Barbara Allen. She's a proper wild, wicked slip of a girl.
Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan won the Golden Osella Award at the last Venice Film Festival for Best Cinematography, deservedly. His low shots through clumps of sedge and his panoramas of the moors (filming took place on the bleaker areas around Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales) are stunning, but what is especially memorable is his selection of close-ups of the insects, flowers and small creatures to be found in the heather and under the bilberries. I was looking out for harebells, but did not notice any. Perhaps they were the wrong kind of flower here. The wind sounded right I recognise that wind as it battered the microphone relentlessly.
The creatures of the wild moors a couple of centuries ago have a strong present-times feel, because casting in this way has put racial prejudice in the forefront. Heathcliff is full of revengeful passions because he has been racially abused. The violent skinhead Hindley (Lee Shaw) is notably foul-mouthed when he does speak, like an adherent of some far-right organisation, and the enforced baptism scene shows that the church was pretty short on tender loving care when it came to new dark-skinned members of the congregation. The West Yorkshire accents are just right.
In the second half, the adult Heathcliff (James Howson) does not spend long on relishing his revenge on Hindley, but that is not the only disappointment. Both James Howson and Kaya Scodelario, who plays the adult Cathy, bear only token resemblances to their child counterparts, and have less presence. Cathy is not differentiated from Isabella enough, and seems to be unrelated to her younger self, which can not be explained away by her presence in the sophistication of Thrushcross Grange, where manners (and the mild weather) are always better. Heathcliff seems somehow clumsier and less sympathetic, a fact which is not helped by James Howson's lack of acting experience (more forgivable in Solomon Glave), and the shots of flowers and insects which sustained the first half become less effective because they are repeated too much. James Northcote's acting as Edgar is faultless, but seems out of place here, as if he has stepped out of another film.
And that other film could be the 1939 version, which is at the other end of the spectrum.
I saw this movie from the director Andrea Arnold during the 7th film
festival in Zurich (September 2011).
It took all my determination not to walk out of this one. I knew enough about Arnold not to expect a costume flick, nothing that would remind the audience of Jane Austen and I didn't expect anything light either. Bronte's novel isn't exactly light and I was actually looking forward to a darker interpretation.
What's the story? A young boy named Heathcliff (in this interpretation he's black) is taken in by a rich family in England, where he gets abused by his foster brother and where he develops an intense obsession with his foster sister, Cathy.
I wasn't that bothered by the weather. Even though it was raining cats and dogs near the house of the Earnshaw's. I'm not exaggerating, it was literally pouring down, there was an enormous amount of fog and the sun seemed to be a myth. The rich neighbours a few hours away, however, had a lovely climate.
I wasn't that bothered by how minimalistic the movie is. On the contrary I enjoy movies with no soundtrack. There's almost no dialog. Something, I usually enjoy as well. And there's an overuse of wildlife metaphors (mostly bugs and feathers).
I wasn't that bothered by the shaky camera either. Even though it looked like they were imitating one of those reality cop shows.
I wasn't even bothered by the fact that the older Heathcliff and Cathy looked nothing like their younger selves. And by nothing, I mean nothing.
What did bother me?
First of all the animal abuse. I understand that after hunting a rabbit you need to break its neck. I understand to put lamb chops onto a plate you need to first kill the lamb. I also understand that when there were too many dogs around one estate some would get killed. But, I honestly don't have/want to see this. I really don't need a director showing me close shots of how these animals die.
Then, there's not one likable character in this story. Not one redeeming quality. I am aware that it's similar in the book. But, one does not care about the love story or the protagonist. The protagonist is a poor soul but he also behaves like a jerk, the love story is an obsession and destroys two human beings. Plus, it ends with some necrophilia, which btw, isn't an exaggeration either.
All this made me want to climb through the screen and go and punch a few characters. I don't like it when a film makes me feel nothing but aggression. Since I remember, vaguely, that the book is just as dark and depressing, maybe this just isn't my story.
My experience was so drastically opposed to what I'd heard about this
film in the newspapers that I was going to write a shocked review here;
but I see that it has already all been said. Wilfully obscure narrative
(I went with someone who had never read the book and had to explain to
him afterwards who was who and what had happened, and why),
self-indulgent overuse of wildlife shots and arty camera angles (once
is good; twice is good; ALL THE TIME is tedious), important plot
developments whisked over in the joints between one scene and the next,
poor performances from the adult actors, jerky camera-work,
insufficient lighting, and a variety of deliberately repulsive scenes
of slaughter, necrophilia, blood-sucking and copulation in the mud (and
I'm not talking about that bizarre bog scene between Cathy and
Heathcliff, clearly intended to be very significant since it was
repeated at the end...)
A lot of the time I felt I was being battered over the head with the director's insistence that This Is a Very Important Metaphor but simply didn't understand what the shot of a beetle, or a horse's flank, or a patch of stone, or yet another rainstorm, was supposed to be saying. (The one thing I didn't notice, interestingly, was that the film is in Academy ratio rather than widescreen - probably because the vast majority of the pictures I watch are not in widescreen and in fact I generally dislike it, so I certainly wasn't conscious of that as a drawback.) To be fair, my other companion, who adores the novel, thought the film was the closest she'd ever seen to capturing the spirit of the book, although she too was somewhat disappointed in the 'adult' section.
I suppose you could say that it was a disquieting film of a disquieting book, in which none of the characters were sympathetic because none of the characters in the original are sympathetic: for my part I found myself roused to a furious dislike and resentment, so was at least not indifferent to it. I didn't walk out of what was a sparsely-attended screening -- I didn't even allow myself to disturb my neighbours by looking at my watch -- but I fantasised about being able to leave and was longing for the experience to end.
I think the film has power, which is why I haven't marked it lower than I have. I also think that in many ways it is a bad piece of film-making, more akin to a pretentious video installation than the telling of a complicated and violent story.
The wind really does 'wuther' like that in Yorkshire, though...
With Wuthering Heights being my favourite book of all time I was a little sketchy as to how this British independent would be, having seen previous film versions of the book and been reasonably disappointed. Andrea Arnold is of course a great director and Mumford & Sons are my favourite band so I couldn't wait to see this... I wasn't disappointed, what you need to understand is that the story doesn't focus a great deal on Heathcliff's life or back story. What it does it it focuses on the bleak conditions and harsh and realistic conditions in which the story will have actually taken place. The way it worked was very clever and you could almost feel the cold country air as you were watching it. I was happy with the film as it was a different take on a classic novel, 6 out of ten for me.
I wouldn't recommend this film unless you like endless shots of bleak
moorland, mud, circling lapwings and the backs of peoples'heads. Funny
how the poster show the back of young Heathcliffe's head. I don't mind
slow moving films where not much happens, but I didn't feel this
particular film had the artistic merit to carry it off. It could have
done with much more rigorous editing to bring the running time down to
about 90 minutes.
Having Heathcliffe played by black actors was an interesting idea and worked well. I also liked it that a large part of the film concentrated on the early parts of the book -apparently in contrast to other film versions -especially as the younger actors performed quite well. It was as a shame that the acting deteriorated so much with the adult cast to the extent that I could detect no passion or chemistry between Heathcliffe and Cathy.
I thought the film was overall a dreary waste of time. It seems to have been liked more by the professional critics than by the real audience - show people grim raw reality far removed from their comfortable lives (I am referring to London based critics who only spend weekends in the country) and they are easily impressed. I got the same impression with reviews of Winter's Bone -a film I thought equally bad.
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