A flamboyant English teacher (Clive Owen) and a new, stoic art teacher (Juliette Binoche) collide at an upscale prep school. A high-spirited courtship begins and she finds herself enjoying the battle. Another battle they begin has the students trying to prove which is more powerful, the word or the picture. But the true war is against their own demons, as two troubled souls struggle for connection. Written by
There have been many philosophical arguments about the power of words and images. If one picture is worth a thousand words, and actions speak louder than words, who are we to disagree? In the battle of the sexes, the latest independent film, Words and Pictures, takes on this dispute in telling its love story about an English professor and an artist, both of whom have conflicting viewpoints on the subject and their budding courtship.
Jack (Clive Owen) is an alcoholic academic who values the sacred text above all else. As fate would have it, he meets Dina (Juliette Binoche), an art teacher and painter whose rheumatoid arthritis is beginning to cripple her creative output. Both teach at an exclusive prep school. He teaches English, she teaches art, and it is their volatile relationship that is at the heart of this romantic film. One has lost that creative spark to alcohol, the other literally coming to grips with her own physical limitations. Each questions their own value and importance in a rivalry set between the schools based on the theoretical debate of words vs. pictures.
Of course, they will fall in love. It's inevitable, isn't it? Predictable. Formulaic. Conventional. Clichéd. Those are some words that come to mind. Entertaining. Diverting. Enjoyable. Thought provoking. Those are some more words that succinctly describe Words and Pictures. ￼ Fred Schepsi solidly directs the film and has wisely cast the central roles with actors who have enough presence and talent to make these characters more credible on the screen than from the written page. The preachy screenplay by Gerald Di Pego takes this interesting premise and expounds their differences ad nauseum. When the script stays true to the intellectual discourse, the film resonates. Unfortunately, it also adds some needless sub plots that go nowhere and just fill time. Some actors like Bruce Davidson and Amy Brenneman aren't given much to do and are wasted in minor roles.
But the film eventually works solely due to the chemistry of Binoche and Owens. Owen's Jack has a disheveled charm and sexiness that makes him worthy of Dina's attention. His bouts with alcohol have a chilling realism and, a speech delivered to the end of the film to his estranged son is quite moving. Binoche has a wry and expressive persona that makes her character a noble and caring rival. Her talents not only as an actress but also as an abstract painter are showcased successfully throughout the film. These actors supply the sweetness and passion that is somehow lacking in the film's creaky plot and soap opera dynamics.
￼At times, Words and Pictures tends to hyperventilate on its own words and storytelling. But one can readily accept this factor as the film tackles bigger issues and offers intellectual nourishment that mostly other films avoid. The film effectively emphasizes the importance of art and literature to us mere mortals. However it ultimately raises another philosophical question: Does music eclipse both as a more direct means of expression? Talk amongst yourselves, but go first see Words and Pictures as a hearty appetizer. GRADE: B
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