i luv cinema’s Take on “Wuthering Heights” (Directed by Andrea Arnold)

Last week, I have the privilege of catching a sneak preview of Andrea Arnold’s latest film – her adaptation of the Emily Brontë classic Wuthering Heights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Equally exciting was the opportunity to participate in the Q&A session that followed the screening,  with the director herself live and in person.

Alas, I did not have a particular question to ask Ms. Arnold; but I did have a lot to think about, as I was still processing what I just saw on screen.

Having been a fan of her work and having seen two of her previous directorial outings (Red Road, Fish Tank) I knew that this film would not provide a stock, straightforward adaptation of the source material. Over the years, Arnold’s films have stood out in my mind for their depiction of an unflinching world in which her characters live and are often fighting against.

* Since this is a classic and must read for many a school-aged child, I will not drag on about the plot but will, instead, direct you to a fine synopsis of the novel here.

Going into the film, I  also had a little bit of a background understanding of some of the artistic embellishments added to the film, most notably in the casting of young, Black British men in the role of Heathcliff as a youth and as an adult. For some this was a controversial choice – for me, it was not that much of a stretch – in fact, I thought it allowed a contemporary audience to experience the treatment gypsy (as Heathcliff is in the novel) would have experience at the hands of people who lived in rural 19th century England. It especially gave his treatment at the hands of Hindley that much more weight. Although in our screening at least one viewer took exception to the “obvious” – his words not mine – characterization of Hindley as a skinhead. Ms. Arnold’s humorous retort was one that accepted this fact and swiftly moved on from it. And so shall I.

As for the film itself, very much like in the book, the external environment plays a vital role in telling the story the tragic lovers. However I must say in this version, the moors have a decidedly cold, remote feel to them. I would liken the coldness I felt here to my experience watching Jane Eyre last year. That said, the cinematography is quite good in capturing the landscape, even if at moments the use of the hand-held camera proved a little trying on my weary eyes.

As for the ever-important portrayals of Cathy and Heathcliff, I think that the performances of the younger pair (Shannon Beer and Solomon Glave) really rose to the occasion and worked better (for me) than of the actors who played the tragic couple as adults (Kaya Scodelario and James Howson).

Like many adaptations of Wuthering Heights, the story focuses on the central Cathy and Heathcliff relationship (this time the story is specifically viewed from Heathcliff’s perspective – as was Arnold’s stated intention) and cleaves the entire second half of novel, which is fine by me, since I felt the book was a bit of a letdown once Cathy’s fate is sealed.

One final thing that I am still undecided on is the ending … in particular the music that leads us into the final credits. Normally this is not something I pay too particular attention to, but in this case the music choice stands out in that it is most decidedly anachronistic (* if any of you have seen the film let me know what you think in the comments section below).

Wuthering Heights opens October 5th at the Film Forum in NYC. Followed by a wider release on October 12 in select cities nationwide.

 

I am Really Excited About … Wuthering Heights (2011/2)

When I mentioned Wuthering Heights in a post last year (“The Serious Season”) I was unsure if it would see the inside of a cinema by the end of 2011. But alas 2011 came to a close and there was no mention of this film Stateside. The film was shown at both the 2011 Toronto International and Venice Film Festivals.

So you can imagine my surprise when I received word from the film’s U.S. distributor that Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic love story, Wuthering Heights, is coming to a theater near us.

Here is the international trailer:

 

SYNOPSIS

Andrea Arnold’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS is an excitingly fresh and distinct take on the classic novel by Emily Brontë.

An epic love story that spans childhood well into the young adult years, the film follows Heathcliff, a boy taken in by a benevolent Yorkshire farmer, Earnshaw.  Living in Earnshaw’s home, Heathcliff develops a passionate relationship with the farmer’s teenage daughter, Catherine, inspiring the envy and mistrust of his son, Hindley.  When Earnshaw passes away, the now-grown characters must finally confront the intense feelings and rivalries that have built up throughout their years together.

 

This will be the Academy Award winning director’s third feature-length film (previous work includes Red Road, Fish Tank).

Fish Tank

After being taken quite aback by Ms. Arnold’s feature-length directorial debut Red Road I was cautiously looking forward to seeing Fish Tank. This past week, I had the extra pleasure of catching a sneak preview of the film at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where Ms. Arnold and one of the films’ stars, Michael Fassbender, were on hand for a post-screening question and answer session. As previously mentioned, my knowledge of Ms. Arnold’s work is Red Road and to put it simply it was an uncomfortable watch – but not in the way you would expect. I look at Fish Tank the same way.

Best summed up by Mr. Fassbender this past Thursday, one of the strengths (and sources of unease in my opinion) in the director’s work is that she is merely observing her characters in their world – she is not casting aspersions on their actions or decisions. In that regard, the audience is not given the opportunity to say, “Oh yeah he is a bad guy and his actions and their consequences are emblematic of this.” We are not let off that easily; we observe Ms. Arnold’s characters as flawed people who often make decisions that while not of made out of malice, they will come to regret. I looked at this story and its characters without judgment – a rarified cinematic experience. As I wrote this “review” I rejected the idea of scribing a synopsis because I feel to summarize this story as a “coming of age” tale does it a little of a disservice.

Yes, we are looking at the story through the lens of the teenager Mia (sensational debut by newcomer Katie Jarvis) but there are so many more ideas and themes at play in the film.

In closing, all I can say is that it was a fantastic watch and I highly recommend it.