WORDS AND PICTURES
At an elite New England prep school, flamboyant English teacher - and writer's block victim - Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) collides with new, stoic and icy art teacher Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), suffering from the onset of arthritis. 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.
Review by Louise Keller:
Sparks fly and dynamics shift in a stimulating exchange when language and art jostle for top spot. Elevated by two top performances from Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, the film is thoroughly enjoyable on many levels - from the intellectual to the emotional with director Fred Schepisi handling the balance of light and shade with great sensitivity.
The serious themes of rheumatoid arthritis and alcoholism are integrated with a light tough, offering the due respect they deserve but are never allowed to bog down the film's fiery spirit. It is that spirit that soars as it champions communication of the written word as well as that of artistic expression.
In the film's opening scenes, it is through a series of juxtaposed images that we meet Clive Owen's Jack Marcus and Juliette Binoche's Dina Delsanto. Grouchy, opinionated and passionate, they clash on sight at the prep school at which they teach English Honours and Art Honours respectively. The fact that Jack's job is on the line is not only due to his drinking problem (and subsequent bad behaviour) but also to the creative lethargy that has spilt over to the school magazine he runs. Dina's forthright demanding teaching style asks students to change the world as they strive to better their work. We are shown that she practices what she preaches: the scenes showing her using pulleys to help her paint and counter her arthritic hands and arms are candid in portraying management of the crippling disease.
There's a vital energy as Jack and Dina joust through Jack's perennial word games and the way he plays with words and their origins is very funny. It is the public war that Jack declares when Dina tells her students that 'words are lies and traps' that erects the signposts for the film's direction (he ascertains they are truth and power). Owen is highly convincing and likeable as the flawed professor who resorts to desperate measures to save his skin, using everything and everyone in his reach. Binoche is expert at displaying emotions: here she uses a superficial brittle exterior to conceal her character's frustrations from her medical condition's physical limitations and allows her warmth to peek through at the right times.
The kiss and seduction scene that takes place in Dina's art studio is disarmingly charming - the dialogue from Gerald Di Pego's insightful screenplay reveals the kind of truths about love and sex that ring true. And there's a lovely moment when both words and pictures fail - when it's time for another artform to come into play. Surprisingly the film's most moving moment is between Jack and his son Tony (Christian Scheider); it is the plot line involving their flailing relationship that has the greatest impact. The other plot line with Dina's star art student Emily (Valerie Tian) is also effective.
Ultimately it is the yin and yang between Owen and Binoche that makes the film zing. I felt well satisfied by the journey and stimulated about words, art and history to boot.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Gerald Di Pego's intelligent, articulate screenplay provides plenty of opportunities for both intellectual and emotional swordplay in this ultimately gentle romantic comedy, acting as the railway tracks on which the performances take us on an enjoyable adventure of hearts and minds.
Juliette Binoche makes her art teacher Dina as fiery as she is icy, contrasting with Clive Owen's Jack-of-all-drinks whose writing has peaked. Both performances are crucial to the film's success, and both give us the multi-faceted characters whose flaws are as real as their passion for their subjects.
The philosophical contest between words and pictures, set in a well to do New England prep school, is not the film's primary ambition. It's the backdrop to how two very different mature age characters adjust to each other through contact.
Dina Delsanto is a respected modern artist suffering from arthritis, the one disease that threatens her ability to paint. She arrives as the new art teacher and quickly shows she won't settle for mediocrity. To the film's credit, we see her executing the paintings, complete with harness aids to help her battle the arthritis. These scenes are notable for their honesty and the absence of false sentiment.
Binoche is gutsy and vulnerable as Dina, tough in self defense yet gentle in her world view.
In the opposite corner, Jack is flailing around inside his writer's block, drinking his way through his vodka collection, to his son's dismay. These are all real life problems we recognise and understand; they may be teachers of art, but in their own way they are humanity's blue collar workers, struggling to survive.
Fred Schepisi's sure direction provides a seamless dynamic flow to the film's structure, and the challenges of varied acting styles (not just the leads but the students) are well managed. The engaging mood of the film is evenly maintained and the punctuation of humour cleverly understated, with design, music and editing all contributing positively to the final result.
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FRED SCHEPISI INTERVIEW
WORDS AND PICTURES (M)
CAST: Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Valerie Tian, Navid Negahban, Bruce Davison, Amy Brenneman, Adam DiMarco, Josh Ssettuba, Janet Kidder, Christian Scheider
PRODUCER: Fred Schepisi, Curtis Burch, Gerald Di Pego,
DIRECTOR: Fred Schepisi
SCRIPT: Gerald Di Pego
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ian Baker
EDITOR: Peter Honess
MUSIC: Paul Grabowsky
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 17, 2014