Cinema Signal:

A Room With A View
A DVD
with Helena Bonham Carter
(1986)


. "Conversations With Other Women"

Outside of getting a chance to see Helena Bonham Carter again, the value of an experimental split screen technique to help us visualize a dialogue between two people is strictly for arthouse tastes that are more willing than I to elevate a showcase exercise to serious drama. True, the skill of two actors generate some well observed moments between two people who were young lovers and haven't seen each other in 20 or so years. There are a few laughs, clever banter that amounts to foreplay, and a few other things that would be spoilers if I revealed them here, but the sledding is rough.

What drama there is revolves around the question of where this unnammed attractive couple come down on the question of what might have been. The dialogue, which is the sum and substance of the piece, flits around the issue of chance encounters, reliving the past, seizing the moment and the possibility of consequences until it becomes evident that they, at least, still have a mutual physical attraction. But there's little cleverness in the setup and no hope of anyone's world changing. That hopelessness, while realistic, will do nothing for the film's word-of-mouth and consequent potentials at the boxoffice.

We've had dialogue movies before. They're oh, so cheap to produce, after all. Two actors, a few side characters maybe, extras as needed, and a set or two. On my temperature scale they start with the cool "My Dinner With Andre," an intellectual joust at a table between two men; Richard Linklater's talky body of work with his sexually promising "Before Sunrise," latter day sequel "Before Sunset" and tiresome "Waking Life," which come closer to what we have here in terms of sex-laden polemics and low-budget actor exercise.

What director Hans Canosa tries for us from a script that seems designed for the stage by his lady friend, Gabrielle Zevin, is the device of showing our two principle players as they're channelled by two younger actors representing what they may have looked like when they courted as twenty-something youths. But, then, when the second half of the screen isn't used for that purpose, you're left with two views of the principles, an effect that lends nothing to the reality of the moment being enacted. If there is some enhancement through the use of simultaneous perspectives it's cancelled out by unnecessary confusion and the feel of a gimmick.

For me, who became a deep fan of Carter's from her broad and creatively spectacular work in British cinema ("Howards End"), her gifts are entirely underused. But, I'm glad for two things: (1) that she's finding work apart from her husband Tim Burton's bizarre worlds and (2) that there's a chance to revel in the appearance of a woman who is a world class actor... and beauty. It was almost enough to pull this out for me... but not quite.

I'm also happy to report (and you may be hearing it here for the first time) that Carter has been cast in the fifth episode of the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." She'll play Bellatrix Lestrange, one of Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters. Oooooo, yes!

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                                       ~~  Jules Brenner


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Aaron Eckhart, Helena Bonham Carter
Man and woman, encounter and foreplay.
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