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USA 2013
Directed by
Fred Schepisi
111 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Words And Pictures

Synopsis: Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) is a once-promising author and poet who now teaches English at an elite New England preparatory school. He is suffering writer’s block, is alienated from his son, and has a drinking problem to boot. Enter new teacher Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), an acclaimed painter who is suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. Jack tries to melt Dina’s frosty façade with his clever word games, but when he hears that she is telling their mutual students that words are “traps and lies”, and that only pictures can truly communicate, a full-blown war of “words versus pictures” erupts, with students taking sides, and rising to the occasion of producing their best works in both fields.

Many reviewers of this film have claimed that there is no chemistry between Owen and Binoche. I beg to differ. Not only is there plenty of cheeky repartee and obvious attraction from the get-go, but these two actors give terrific performances as a pair so different in style yet both passionate about their art. The film is a romance but a very intelligent one, with witty dialogue which elevates it several notches above the standard dross. Anyone with a passion for words and enjoys razor-sharp word games will simply love Jack’s endless, smart-arse attempts to get the upper hand with his class and any fellow staff members willing to play along. Those with an eye for art will marvel at the way in which Dina is determined not to give in to her disease and invents new ways of painting, including physical aids, strange harnesses, and alternative styles (all the art is done by Binoche).

The story is also a very human one of two people grappling with frailties and learning how to adapt when serious challenges come their way. Neither of the characters are particularly likeable but this only adds to their charm and enhances the narrative arc that they must traverse. Owen has been chastised for not having a convincing American accent but to compensate he sure plays an excellent drunk and when in more sober moments he reads to his class he definitely had me feeling words have the power. Meanwhile, Binoche invests Dina with an ice-cold exterior and an acid tongue, yet we sense her wry sense of humour, her frustration and her vulnerability underneath it all.

The smaller sub-themes of various student dynamics are nicely handled with a timely episode involving social-media bullying and Jack’s insistence that the students use actual books for their research rather than the internet. The arguments propounded for this certainly gave me food for thought. Jack's problems of alienation from his son are also side-issues of interest, and here Owen's ability to emote is yet again wonderfully displayed.

As we know, the director, Melbourne-born Schepisi has a wonderful and diverse body of work to his credit and he is here, as ever, in charge of his craft and cast. I found myself loving these flawed characters from the first meeting with them and continued to be engrossed by their verbal engagements and suffused romance.

If you are any sort of wordsmith or painter I venture to suggest that this film will give you plenty to enjoy, but if you want to simply watch two really fine actors at work, it will also do the job.




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