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Vanessa Redgrave's Eyes
Bishonen3 November 1999
David Hare's quiet masterpiece conveys a genuine sense of alienation and dislocation while covering a great deal of social and political ground. It never loses sight of the human story, though; the loneliness of the characters comes through in this startlingly intelligent drama which unfolds slowly, like a flower under time lapse photography. We watch the bloom, flowering and eventual withering of the characters' bodies and minds over several decades of social discord, emotional disappointments and lost dreams.

It's stunning how Hare constructs such an involving character study under the framework of a conventional mystery. The inexplicable suicide of a young man draws the viewer in but it's the characters that involve the viewer in a greater mystery of the heart; how did these people get to this point in their lives and the history of a nation? Hare delicately examines the spiritual decay of late-20th century British society and how it impacts all generations, from the haunted post-war generation to the alienated, disconnected contemporary youth. Ultimately both groups are unable to reach out to each other, trapped in the inescapable malaise which spares no-one.

Vanessa Redgrave carries this film. In her eyes a dazzling spectrum of emotions infuse her scenes with joy, heartbreak, hopelessness, elation, and everything else in between. It's a brilliantly written film but no words are necessary to understand the despair. It's all in her eyes.
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Redgrave gives one of her best performances in playwright David Hare's first film.
Rigor9 June 1999
Warning: Spoilers
Vanessa Redgrave gives a breathtaking performance in this extremely well written and executed 'puzzle' movie. Many of the initial reviews of this film in 1985 pointed out Redgrave's great performance but failed to appreciate the overall quality of Hare's direction and screenplay. This is a great modern film, easily one of the best English language films of the 1980's. Redgrave plays a single teacher who is shocked when a young stranger enters her house and for no rational reason commits suicide in front of her. As she, her best friends (well played by Judi Dench and Ian Holm), a sympathetic yet slightly obsessive detective and a young woman from the dead man's past (a remarkable performance by Suzanna Hamilton) all struggle to discover why the young man chose this woman to witness his death, we are drawn into a beautifully nuanced philosophical examination of the meaning of life in a time of negative social change (Thatcher, Reagan and the spectre of Richard Nixon haunt the film's characters). The examination of the young man nihilistic choice to kill himself is reflected in the seemingly growing alienation of the students in Redgrave's class and her struggle to remain proactive as a teacher and a human being despite personal tragedies and the political/social chaos of the Thatcher years. A really captivating film that deserves a much wider audience.
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The record, set straight
Zootz Simms2 April 2005
This is a great film. I just saw it for the first time. The comment above is completely wrong, however. I must set the record straight. The military scenes are not US soldiers, but rather a flashback for Vanessa Redgrave to a love lost. Royal Air Force, sir, in Malay. I whole-heartedly recommend the film. It has a great dramatic score. It also has tackles some real dark ideas about love and life. And it has a pace that doesn't exist anymore in many films, especially those with stars. Great performances from Ian Holm and Tom Wilkinson. Also a fine performance from a very young Joely Richardson (Vanessa Redgrave's daughter), who now stars on FX's Nip Tuck.
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trpdean18 May 2005
I've always loved this movie deeply. I just watched it again for perhaps the sixth or seventh time. I fully agree with the Japanese reviewer that the mention of Nixon is in sympathy, not ridicule. His yearning to be loved by another, is very much meant as a parallel to the young and older Redgrave character - as well as to the young man at the dinner party.

David Hare has a wonderful scene here that is very similar to the very end of Plenty - when we see Joely Richardson writing in her diary in 1947 or so (think of Plenty's flashback to Meryl Streep in 1944 or 1945 speaking to the French farmer). The scenes might be full of bathos - but gee, I was overwhelmed both times.

This movie has much in common with other Hare ventures - movies like Strapless and Plenty, plays like Skylight and "Amy's View".

Hare's deep sympathies are with the romantic, the compassionate, the sensitive, the foolhardy, the collective-minded and the lost. He is antipathetic toward the self-sufficient, the ambitious, the laconic, the individualistic, the successful. I only partly share his sympathy and his antipathy but he makes me appreciate his attitudes through dramas he creates with real living characters.

Hare is sentimental in a nostalgic way, and can write wonderfully vivid, intelligent and lost protagonists. I think him a far more intelligent and better dramatist than such left-wingers as Mike Leigh or Ken Loach.

Many of us will see much of ourselves in his protagonists' loneliness, our wonder at mistaken hopes from our past, and sense of our own frailties and faults as we grow older.

Others speak of similarities to Pinter - I don't see them. Hare is more essentially romantic - even if he doesn't want to be - and I'd place him more with a Jacques Demy than with a Pinter-Mamet and their cold keen patterns of speech and behavior - though granted, he's more concerned with social and political background than Demy.

This is essentially a sad movie about one who was once happy - and her wonder and self-realization about another sadder than she.

This movie also started me off on two decades of strongly favoring Joely Richardson in any role - as I had always loved Ian Holm and Vanessa Redgrave. (I realized recently that among my several dozen favorite movies since the mid-1960s, about one quarter seem to have Ian Holm in them!).

If you like movies like Sunday Bloody Sunday, Butley, Plenty, A Kind of Loving, Quartermaine's Terms - and I do - you'll love Wetherby. I love this movie.
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Excellent film, but... (possible spoilers)
humbleradio27 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
(possible spoilers)

I agree with the above comments almost entirely with the small exception of the importance that the 80's political scene played as any kind of thematic backdrop for the story.

On the contrary, the WWII era, if anything, was to be the backdrop for the contemporary happenings within the plot.

I think the above commenter is reading too much into the mention of Nixon in the film and possibly projecting his/her own political leanings - obviously anti-Thatcher/Reagan - onto those of David Hare, the writer and director. In terms of Richard Nixon, who is mentioned in an anecdotal way at the outset of the story, Ian Holmes' character appears to sympathize with the former president when discussing a rumour about Richard and Pat's early courtship. And Venessa Redgrave's character admits things would "liven up" in their pub were the former president to suddenly appear. These are not the words of people suffering from "negative progression" as stated in the above comment.

The characters played by Redgrave, Holmes, Dench, not to mention the key character of John Morgan, are all in one way or another involved in academia. (though Holmes plays a barrister.) They live quite comfortably and somewhat happily - within the confines of the plot and theme of loneliness, and aloneness of course. Redgrave's country home would be an enviable house to live in by anyone's standards. To say that this is an environment of "Thatcher chaos", as the above commenter states, is quite off the mark, I feel. The story is about normal people, somewhat lonely, in the upper middle class regions of society living their lives, waxing philosophy and working at their jobs, when a young stranger (youth is an important aspect of the theme) appears and upsets their lives with his dramatic actions. This stranger's "behaviour" does not make them question their lives, nor does it need to. (They are all confident in their own beliefs and values.) It simply, as Redgrave hints in the pub, livens up the place. Breaks up the monotony. Changes the daily talk, the daily complaints to something a bit more meaningful.

It is a common misconception to interpret films as a 100% reflection of the political climate of the time. This mistake has been repeated throughout the history of film criticism. One good example is the much repeated "red scare" explanation to Don Segal's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Segal himself, claims the comparison is nonsense, and he was simply making a thriller. A scary monster movie with no monsters.

Overall, Wetherby is an excellent film with noteworthy performances by the cast. Stuart Wilson, particularly stands out among them. So, as I've stated, I think the above commenter made an almost perfect review of the film aside from the perceived importance of the political background at the time of shooting. Politics, like it or not, isn't always at the source.
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Haunting, but occasionally maudlin
Lorene Anderson19 May 2005
Besides qualms with the musical score, Wetherby has a killer script, intriguing editing, fantastic acting (Vanessa Redgrave is incredible), and a compelling idea driving the film. The echoes of film noir in the intense, high-contrast lighting and the starkness of the violence was perfect, especially when combined with naked silence. It is more than a story about a disturbed young man who shoots himself in front of an aging school teacher, Jean Travers (Redgrave). That comes early in the film. It is about the psychological consequences for Jean in her life and past, violently revealed through that shocking act. Life can never be normal again. Beneath even the most pleasant veneer lurks sadness, secrets, and dark sexuality.
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David Hare's tribute to, or influence of Pinter
stuhh20011 June 2002
A Pinteresque landscape of a movie. Not quite upper upper class, but upper middleclass, educated, intelligent people, endlessly talking, and trying to "relate". An opening scene that jarred me: Redgrave describing the "sly" look of a student in a literature class. I responded to it as a average thirteen year old nerd would. "Please don't call on me, AND PLEASE DON'T DISCUSS MY LOOKS IN THIS CLASS, OR IN ANY PUBLIC FORUM. YOU'RE KILLING, AND EMBARRASSING ME, TEACHER!" This is a young Judi Dench, and Ian Holm no longer twentysomething, entering middle age. I wonder if they could forsee the international superstardom that would be theirs in a few years? The Richardson and Redgrave clan turns out yet another great contribution to the British stage in the delightful Jolley, Vanessa's daughter in real(not reel) life, playing, you guessed it Vanessa as a young girl. If you had any doubt why I rate London over Hollywood watch this movie. Even if you think it's boring, and, "they talk with funny accents" you can see that these people are artists and are so good the "art" hardly shows. It's not supposed to.
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Intriguing use of time
bfinn31 August 2001
An intriguing film which plays with time in an interesting way - it is based around the bizarre suicide of a young man, and scenes are shown in no particular order, some from before the suicide and some from after. Often it's hard to tell when chronologically a scene occurs. I like this kind of narrative structure (cf. Pulp Fiction).

Towards the end of the film further scenes are interspersed from an apparently independent storyline about American soldiers during the war. When I saw the film (quite a few years ago) I couldn't work out how this related to the rest of the film at all. But it all seemed to make some kind of sense anyway.

Definitely worth a look.
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douglasbrook-122 January 2013
Brilliant layered film. Love the cinematography and the score - so moving - this is a "cinematic' film - it takes you to another place. I love the moody setting. I read David Hare wanted to show how ordinary lives can have operatic emotions and he captures this with the score. Love the flashbacks and the way the puzzle and mystery slowly forms. All of the different themes and characters add up to a potent emotional cocktail and comment on life, growing up, growing old, dreams and expectations, the search for meaning in our lives. "A girl ran away today". 'Good luck to her". "Yes good luck". I love it when Vanessa Redgraves character feels as if the young guy's spirit is pulling her down and the detective tells her she needs to fight. It seems her broken heart and inner melancholy allowed her to connect to him and his sense of disillusionment with the modern world.
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An inquisitive film about the important and uncontrolling life events which modifies us for better or worse
Rodrigo Amaro18 March 2013
"Wetherby" is an intriguing wake up call to each one of us to pay more attention to life and the events surrounding it, before it gets too late and we're forced to face the facts, to see the importance people have in our lives in its quietest and small moments even though we think they're not important or they can't affect us. Because they can and life has its ways of showing how. What David Hare is saying here is that the things that matter and will change you will happen when you're distracted or least expecting it. With luck, you'll know how to react.

In the suburb of Wetherby a casual dinner took place having as participants some upper class members, an enjoyable evening in the house of teacher Jean Travers (Vanessa Redgrave). The following day one of the guests, the mysterious John Morgan (Tim McInnerny) returns there, exposes that he wasn't known of any of the attendees - to Jean's surprise who thinks this was impossible - and then he kills himself in front of her. Such fact triggers down alternate ways: a police detective (Stuart Wilson) becomes obsessed with this strange case and decides to get some clues on why Morgan acted this way; Karen, a colleague of Morgan (Suzanne Hamilton) visits Jean informing her about the very few she knew about the young man, but she's just mysterious as he was, doesn't reveal much about herself; a minor impact on the lives of Mrs. Travers friends (Ian Holm, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson); and Jean remembrances of her past with her involvement with a soldier, a life changing experience. The latter, although it doesn't seem and strangely played out to confuse audiences, is related with the suicide despite decades apart. But this in a psychological way and this movie is perfect when it comes to those terms.

The good points: pay attention to the details and you'll love how most of it was carefully constructed but be warned, there's no easy answers and sometimes there's no answers at all, we're left to take our own conclusions about the character's actions. Redgrave and Wilson were excellent, very insightful and very believable when it comes to present a genuine state of shock, his trying to find reasonable explanations and her after seeing the tragedy (although the movie downplayed and hid her reaction after the fact, awkwardly cutting to her past without further notice). The veteran actors in the supporting roles are outstanding, creating memorable moments. The young McInnerny was an on/off kind of acting. I believed him in almost everything he did, he sure causes an impression on you with this intelligent, disturbed, apparently peaceful guy but in some scenes he was too weird, almost in a laughable way. It's a puzzling and provocative study on the human perceptions and why they're more important to some (John Morgan) than to others (almost all the other characters).

The bad points: this was close in being a great work but so close that is a little saddening to present the following upsetting remarks. I can't complain about the story and the deep connections between different characters, times and space we have to form to understand the whole, however I felt Hare shouldn't be the one to direct this or at least he should tone down a little easier on the technical aspects. A more technical director would benefit substantially from a script like this. The fore-mentioned transition between events is an example on how to not present a story. The time leap between the two events was really odd to see, it looked like seeing another film strangely cut to later get back where it stopped, and even experienced viewers will find this problematic. Of course, not as much as the loud and melodramatic soundtrack which is completely misplaced and creates feelings and sensations that aren't there. For both cases, it was all a matter of editing problem, the way things are put together doesn't work for too long. The girl who played Karen was awful, shouting and overreacting at all times. The screenplay doesn't make of her a sympathetic character, often making her an enigma that doesn't add much to the mystery to be solved.

Those with patience, time and eyes to see will enjoy it to the maximum and even forgive its problems. This isn't hollow, this isn't pretentious, it's just hides its points very deep like a treasure to be sought. The reward will come for those who work and think a little harder. 9/10
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Imagine my surprise!
jsuestreet-353-71992620 January 2013
Ahh, imagine my surprise to find a movie with such a winning cast and an intriguing plot summery at 3:30 am.

Then, imagine my disappointment in finding a movie that is poorly filmed (lighting was so bad I couldn't tell who the actors were and who was speaking), dialog that was plodding and boring, a story line that was so obtuse as to be untenable.

Oh, I was so disappointed. I loved nearly every actor in the movie. It was filmed in Yorkshire, but let's just say it was NOT Agatha Christie's, "Hercule Poirot".

OK, I got over that and tried and tried to watch it for what it was but never figured it out and kept falling asleep and having to back the film up to where I dozed off.

That is not a good movie folks and believe me I've seen some wonderful movies in my 60 something years of watching.

Don't waste your time, unless you want to be transported back to the 60' droll, boring, plodding scripts and filming.
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A Puzzle?
gavin694220 January 2017
The mysterious death of an enigmatic young man newly arrived in the suburb of Wetherby releases the long-repressed, dark passions of some of its residents.

Roger Ebert called it "a haunting film, because it dares to suggest that the death of the stranger is important to everyone it touches – because it forces them to decide how alive they really are." That is one way of looking at it. Others have called the film a "puzzle" with pieces out of order and perhaps even missing.

I liked the idea of a man who kills himself for no reason, and everyone around left to wonder. I am less thrilled about some of the follow-up. His life as a mystery seems better to me than exploring it, but others may disagree.
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Superbly acted, but a bit existentially depressing
mgl-9203715 December 2016
I agree with the other reviewers that Vanessa Redgrave's performance is the highlight of the film. She plays Jean so perfectly that you can imagine that they plucked the character out of real life and simply filmed her in her natural environs. You won't find any performance by an American star---and I include De Niro, Pacino and the other top Americans of the last 50 years---which is as natural, unaffected and moving at Redgrave's. The other real delight is watching Joely Richardson play the young Jean. She looks like her mother, and she foreshadows the later development of Jean perfectly. The actor who plays Jim is perfect in that small role: handsome, not too bright, very honest and devoted. The next great performance is in the character of John Morgan, perfectly portrayed as a young man who is mentally ill, but not to the extent this is noticed, or dealt with at school. He is intelligent, but unable to relate to people as more than objects, or objectified ideals. As a character, he is creepy in just the right degree---subtly, so that the pieces only fit together later.

I'm not sure how to interpret the events which unfold or are revealed in the last 20 minutes of the film, but however you look at it, this is a depressing, very British outlook on middle age. A kind of, yes life is really awful, but we're here and the worst is behind us. In mood and final resolution, as well as in having a teacher as the central character, this movie has echoes of Michael Redgrave's very fine movie, The Browning Version.

Finally, I don't see any significance to politics in this movie. The film is a story of character development and revelation. Don't watch this movie if you are easily bored, or easily depressed, for that matter. Watch it if you want to see some really fine acting, and want to be provoked a bit.
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a beguiling myth
lasttimeisaw29 October 2016
British renowned playwright David Hare's feature film debut, WETHERBY was bestowed with Golden Berlin Bear, an honor shared with Rainer Simon's THE WOMAN AND THE STRANGER in 1985.

In the centre of the story is a mysterious suicidal case, a disaffected young man John Morgan (McInnerney) has shot himself in front of Jean Travers (Redgrave), a middle-aged high school teacher he contacts only one day earlier as an unbidden guest to her dinner party with her married friends. This premise sounds quite unrealistic in real life, but in Hare's text, everything has been subsumed into a symbolical existence, which leaves the narrative often fragmented, jump between present and past, before-or-after Morgan's blunt action, achieved by a rapid editing modus operandi. Ellipsis and lacunae, abrupt plot devices, implicit dialogues, those are the weapons in Hare's possession to challenge viewers' understanding and assimilation of the whole myth, which also renders his social criticism of its era unobtrusively rapier-like.

The suicide's repercussions evoke Jean's buried memory of her youth (play by Redgrave's daughter Richardson, who is brilliantly elegant in her very early screen presence) in 1950s, when she lost her lover Jim (Hines) who volunteers to fight in British Malaya instigated by some airy-fairy nationalism. She never marries, her life has been perpetuated in the rut ever since, but Jean is not a disillusioned soul, she loves teaching and is beloved by her pupils, she enjoys the company of her friends, particularly, Marcia (Dench, who earns a baffling BAFTA nomination since she is barely required to do anything special here), her best friend since teenage years, and Stanley (Holm), Marcia's solicitor husband, he and Jean would meet in bars for some drink, have a tête-à-tête or simply enjoy the comforting silence.

Yet, in the eyes of this reticent John Morgan, she shares the same loneliness that has afflicted on him for a long time, to a point he is mulling over the option of suicide, but again Hare's elusive approach only leaves hints, no exposition, we sees Morgan, a college student, follows Marcia with unrevealed motive and it is through her, his interest alights on Jean eventually, and Hare rebelliously disrupts the narrative thread with sporadic flashbacks until finally discloses what has happened between Jean and John that night, alone, and defiantly, that offers no direct satisfaction to audience either, but trickles of clues might or might not account for John's decision.

The great Vanessa Redgrave, engages in a palpably compassionate rendition of Jean's weather- seasoned inscrutability spiked with a tinge of singular vim and vigor, there is a certain modernity in her character which makes her an almost indestructible entity, not even decades of loneliness, that's where she differs from John, she is a real trooper who admirably holds sway of her own life. Tim McInnerny (mostly remembered as Lord Percy in BLACK ADDER TV series), is consistently nuanced in his feature film debut, John's pain has never emerged from his blank veneer, but he intrigues our attention every time he materialises.

Saddled with lugubrious dirges and symphonic longueur, WETHERBY is an oddly beguiling film, delving into the mystic vicissitude of human's mentality with its oblique syntax and an absolutely fascinating lead performer.
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loydmooney19 February 2005
Another puzzle movie where there is are ludicrously scrambled pieces. If this is all about loneliness and despair, look at how much more gripping something like The Entertainer is. There is something extremely shallow about this film: I guess if you want to make something about despair and keep it really boring, really empty, voila, then people can read about what they want the full extent of their own despair and loneliness into it.

Probably one of the reviewers here is very right: Pinter seems always lurking in the wings of any scene. Hare, however is certainly his own man, very determined fellow to lead us nowhere with some kind of minor supine surprise at the end, to let us think we have solved the Rosebud mystery of this movie: like Kane, another jigsaw puzzle of a movie.

Even Kubrick's The Killing, another scrambled movie, though hardly on this scale, would have been better told straight forwardly.

Moreover, notice the blah response of the great unwashed public to this film. This baby shot past them on quiet rails in the dead of night, because it was just too tortured for its own good.

As for a great performance by Redgrave, well, sure. The woman cannot deliver a single unbelievable line. She is one of the great great actress of all time: spooky how she disappears into every role she ever did.

The only real puzzle for me, is...you guessed it. Why did they ever bother to shoot the first reel.
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What a shame.
blackjakko10 October 2012
The cover looks very promising. Unfortunately it fails to deliver despite having an exceptional cast. Incredibly boring and annoying. Had to stop watching it half way through, and I'm a die hard film fan. I am willing to give movies more than a decent chance to prove themselves. Why it fails? the deadly slow pace, the meandering/chopping back and forth between the two plots. The feeling that the movie is going nowhere and will leave you wondering why you bothered. Truly Vanessa Redgrave is always a good bet which is why I chose it, together with the fact that her daughter (Joely Richardson)is in it spurred me on. The premise is a good one, but the lack of momentum is excruciating. Ian Holm, Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, are all playing their roles adequately. What a shame.
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I like books...
livelovelaugh0622 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Books. I like books."

Yet she never has any books with her and seems to speak too slowly for someone who would consider lengthening her education. This is just one of the many things wrong with this movie. The "dramatic" lighting was simply clichéd. The plot was far too drawn out and it bludgeoned us with the following themes: books and education, loneliness in love, Nixon/Thatcher, and lack of human understanding. But the problem is that everyone is so stupid and hapless that certain themes (like lack of human understanding) seem to stem from their own stupidity.

And how many policemen spend so much time on a case that isn't a crime, brooding away with their mustaches?
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Most pretentious movie EVER
OldeTurtle20 July 2009
This is the most confusing, self-indulgent and pretentious movie ever made.

It looks like it was written and shot by the evil spawn of Fellini, Woody Allen, and Wes Craven.

I defy ANYONE to explain what this movie meant and what all the sub-plots were.

Vanessa Redgrave is fun to watch no matter what, but I bet she is ashamed to have made this movie.

Dark, depressing, violent and indecipherable, this movie will leave you wishing you had believed this review.

It could be a good object lesson in what not to do.

Basing a film like this in Yorkshire is blasphemy.
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The Puzzle Can Be Solved....
museumofdave10 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
There seems to be a good bit of confusion from some viewers of this film, confusion probably because the screenwriter, in order to demonstrate that our actions, both simple and complex, not only affect our own futures, but the futures of our friends and relations, sometimes for decades, has not headlined his message.

This film is worth watching simply because of an outstanding cast, legends before they were legends--Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Holm, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson for starters. And there is a scene early on in the film both graphic and shocking; many reviewers of this film seem to think it has nothing to do with rest of the story except as a plot device which fails to work. I would differ: this intertwined tale bears careful watching, a viewer's ability to link two main stories told nearly simultaneously, seemingly unrelated. There is a good deal that is not said, and one must be like a teacher or a parent to read between the lines: several simple actions combined with expected outcomes provide some guidance.

So this reviewer is not going to lay out a spoiler except to say that this complex, well-thought out film makes complete sense once the actions of the characters are made clear; notice particularly the strange young woman who comes to stay with Redgrave after her first unasked-for guest shocks us. See what that young woman sees. Observe what she touches and how she reacts. Understand why she might be a little more unhinged than Redgrave expects.

The answers are there; they may not be cut and dried and as easy to solve as a Charlie Chan mystery--but they link us to our own amazing capacity to survive with truth over time. This film, if you have the patience, can be fascinating.
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