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Friday, September 7, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

'Innocence' shines in the face of a marvelous cast

Seattle Times movie critic

The loveliest face I've seen on movie screens this year belongs to Julia Blake, a 65-year-old British actress who gives an exquisitely subtle performance in Paul Cox's meditation on late-life love and adultery, "Innocence." Like Meryl Streep and (more recently) Hope Davis, Blake has the kind of pale beauty and angular bone structure that catches light in an arresting way, and Cox frequently films her through window glass, or reflected in a mirror, giving her the soft, luminous remoteness of a Sargent painting.

While a face may not be enough to make a movie (if that were so, Jude Law could have carried "A.I." to glory), "Innocence" has all the other ingredients, too: a marvelous cast, a touching story, some lovely camera work (shot on location in South Australia and Belgium) and a palpable emotional connection between its characters and its audience.

"Innocence"

****
With Julia Blake, Charles Tingwell, Terry Norris, Robert Menzies, Marta Dusseldorp. Written and directed by Paul Cox. 95 minutes. Not rated; contains brief nudity. Harvard Exit

Its story is, on the surface, a simple love triangle. Andreas (Charles Tingwell), an elderly widower, writes a letter to his first love, Claire (Blake): "I learned recently that you live nearby, that you exist ... It's more than 40 years since we've met." Claire, long married to the reliable John (Terry Norris, Blake's real-life husband), nonetheless agrees to meet Andreas, despite her misgivings. "I once loved you very much," she writes to him. "It affected the rest of my life." Needless to say, their love is rekindled, causing both joy and pain.

Tingwell speaks in the resonant tones of a man who's sure of himself and what he believes. He loves music (Andreas is a retired music teacher and organist), he loves his grown daughter (Marta Dusseldorp), and he loves Claire. "What matters in life? Love," he says. "Everything else is rubbish." Claire, a painfully honest and decisive woman — she once says, rather ruefully, "I never say anything I don't mean" — is less serene.

Cox's screenplay eschews easy answers: Claire's husband, though neglectful, is no villain, and his pain is devastatingly real. John, a jovial fellow with a turned-down mouth, at first refuses to believe that his wife is having an affair. (He laughs when she first tells him.) In a brief scene near the end, the three meet accidentally at a restaurant. "I'm really sorry," Andreas tells John. "That's good to know," is John's ice-cold reply.

All this may not suit those who like their love stories with a dose of ironic detachment; this film is populated by characters who open their hearts to each other — and talk about it, too. But I found "Innocence," fueled by its trio of remarkable performances, an immensely moving story of love and death, of age and youth. Near the end, when Claire listens to Andreas playing the organ in an empty church, she reaches out as if to caress the notes in the air; it's a perfect picture of rapture.

Moira Macdonald can be reached at 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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