Friday, April 20, 2007

Movie Notes: Notes on a Scandal (2006)

Dame Judy Dench and Kate Blanchett could read the phone book convincingly and movingly, which helps in the case of such a difficult to understand topic, that of a teacher having sex with a 15 year old student. I wouldn't say that they wholly succeed, but they make the film as fascinating as prurient. Also, the writing is excellent, casting sardonic aspersions on the English class system and public education, which are, as elsewhere, often one and the same.

That said, the film is also filmed and edited in a jarring and ugly sort of way that has become entirely too commonplace. Apparently, the idea of unobtrusive direction is all but dead. It takes an odd structure; the first half of the film is told largely from the point-of-view of Dench's character, an old battle ax of a teacher who witnesses the arrival of a younger teacher, played by Blanchett to her public school, and soon becomes enamored. After Dench discovers that Blanchett is carrying on an affair with a student, the perspective changes and we begin to realize that the older teacher is not quite right in the noggin.

One major problem with the film is that we almost understand why Blanchett threatens her idyllic bourgeois existence for a dalliance with a child, but not quite. The boy pursues her, she is lonely in her marriage, she feels entitled by the privileges of her class; all of these motives are quite convincing. Yet, we're still alarmed by the sight of a middle-aged woman schtuping a pubescent brat. This might be a gender-based reaction, but I somehow doubt it; Jeremy Irons was similarly repugnant in the bone-headed remake of Lolita.

I think that, ultimately, the problem is that Blanchett's character is as deluded as was Humbert Humbert was, but Dench is also totally deluded. There is no oxygen in the room, and no strong character to act as the voice of reason. Everyone is deluded, which the film suggests is an intrinsic part of adulthood. This is an interesting insight, but it makes the film a bit maddening. After a while, we took to calling it 'The Crazy Old Lesbian and the Horny Kid-Fucker'- probably a bad response to have to a serious thriller.

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