Saturday, March 17, 2007

Esther Kahn (2000)

***½
France/UK

Arnaud Desplechin's ambitious, seductive, arch and confounding inquiry into a maladjusted Jewish girl's acting bug in 19th-century London. Summer Phoenix takes on the title role with a fragility that hints at neurosis and serves the film's first couple of acts tolerably well. But as the picture progresses and characters start bigging up Esther's talent and stage presence, no real transition makes itself felt in Phoenix's performance. And you begin to suspect that Desplechin may be holding too much faith in his ingenue. It's quite clear that rather than Esther's commanding the stage, his main point of interest is Esther's incapacity to emotionally engage with the real world, with her attraction to theatre and dogged determination to become a great actress coming about merely as consequences. But is it genuinely Desplechin's primary goal to refocus your attention at Esther's disassociation from her interior battle when he doesn't let you hear her triumphant line deliveries as Hedda Gabler, or is he merely filming around his star's plainly limited acting range? It is entirely likely that in Phoenix's shifty gazes and hushed speech patterns Desplechin is seeing a layered, abstruse performance, while you're pretty much seeing a blank. But of the two of you, who's right?

dir: Arnaud Desplechin
wir: Arnaud Desplechin, Emmanuel Bordieau
ph: Eric Gautier
cast: Summer Phoenix, Ian Holm, Fabrice Desplechin, Frances Barber, Lazsló Szábó, Claudia Solti, Emmanuelle Devos, Paul Regan, Ian Bartholomew

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