Tag Archives: Jennifer Ehle

Offer It Up

Saint Maud

by Hope Madden

Never waste your pain.

What a peculiarly Catholic sentiment. Like old school, self-flagellating, “suffering cleanses” kind of Catholic: the agony and the ecstasy. It’s in the eyes of the martyrs. This is how you see God.

This is what Maud wants.

Writer/director Rose Glass knows that Catholicism is one of the most common elements in horror. You see it in the way she shoots down an old staircase in an alley, or up at the high windows of a lovely manor.

There’s been a glut of uninspired, superficial drivel. But there are also great movies: The Devils (1971), The Omen (1976), and the Godfather of them all, The Exorcist (1973). Saint Maud stakes its claim in this unholy ground with a singular vision of loneliness, purpose and martyrdom.

Maud (an astonishing Morfydd Clark) has some undefined blood and shame in her recent past. But she survived it, and she knows God saved her for a reason. She’s still working out what that reason is when she meets Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former choreographer now crumbling beneath lymphoma.

Maud cannot save Amanda’s body, but because of just the right signs from Amanda, she is determined to save her soul.

Ehle’s performance strikes a perfect image of casual cruelty, her scenes with the clearly delicate Maud a dance of curiosity and unkindness. Ehle’s onscreen chemistry with Clark suggests the bored, almost regretful thrill of manipulation.

Clark’s searching, desperate performance is chilling. Glass routinely frames her in ways to evoke the images of saints and martyrs, giving the film an eerie beauty, one that haunts rather than comforts. The conversations and pathos are so authentic that suddenly the behavior of one mad obsessive feels less lurid and more tragic.

As a horror film, Saint Maud is a slow burn. Glass and crew repay you for your patience, though, with a smart film that believes in its audience. Her film treads the earth between mental illness and religious fervor, but its sights are on the horror of the broken hearted and lonesome.

Stage Mother

Vox Lux

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

No doubt you’re hip to the talent of Natalie Portman.

But if you only know Brady Corbet as an actor (Funny Games, Melancholia, Simon Killer), or maybe don’t know him at all, get to know Corbet the visionary filmmaker.

Corbett writes and directs an astute and unusual pop ballad about celebrity—American celebrity, at that.

Vox Lux opens in 1999 as young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and her high school class are visited by a disgruntled young white male. Corbet’s camera plays with the horror of the scene as it dawns on those in the classroom as well as the audience what is about to happen.

As Celeste heals from a bullet to the spine, she and her older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) work through their collective grief and trauma by writing a song, which Celeste later performs at a memorial vigil.

Thanks to the astute strategy of a no-nonsense manager (Jude Law) and straightforward publicist (Jennifer Ehle), the song becomes a healing anthem and Celeste—her protective sister at her side—is launched into pop stardom.

Corbet’s chaptered “21st Century Portrait” (the proper subtitle to his film) offers infrequent omniscient narration from Willem Dafoe, a glib narrative device that’s part “Behind the Music” and part sociological commentary. Tragedy is commodity in modern America, a fact that can only mean more tragedy.

When the timeline shifts forward and Portman takes over in the lead, we see a new character fully formed from years of living that are only hinted at. Celeste is now a veteran megastar with a daughter of her own (also played by Cassidy) and strained relationships with everyone around her.

Portman’s performance is such an all-in tour de force it effectively divides the film into parts: with and without her. She commands the screen with such totality you’re afraid of what Celeste might do if you dare to shift your focus somewhere else.

Corbet knows better than to do that. With Portman as a mesmerizing guide, he crafts a fascinating fable with two uniquely American pillars – gun violence and celebrity culture. Vox Lux is shocking, funny, sad, and haunting, with plenty of visual flourish and even some new songs by Sia.

It’s a statement, and coming from a relatively unknown writer/director, a pretty audacious one.

Keep ’em coming, Corbet.




Life Sucks and Then You Die

A Quiet Passion

by Cat McAlpine

Writer/director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) delivers a film on Emily Dickinson that is visually brilliant (for the most part) and textually weak. Ironic.

The struggle, surely, with writing a historically rooted film is that certain events must happen, in a certain order, and you’re responsible for the connective tissue. Unfortunately, A Quiet Passion doesn’t have much connective tissue, and it is grating as a result.

There are brilliantly tense moments between family members, witty retorts, a blatant rejection of organized religion, and even a saucily smashed dinner plate, but none of these aggressions fester into anything larger. At one point, sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle, fantastic) chastises “Now things will be tense for days.” We don’t see any of those days.

Cynthia Nixon (Sex in the City) is perfectly awful as the aging Emily, but in earlier scenes she grins her way through acerbic words with the most bizarre delivery.

This isn’t the film’s only stylistic disparity. Visually, A Quiet Passion is a treat. The lighting is gorgeous, with equal time spent on sunny lawns and in shaded bedrooms. The color is rich too, especially for a film of its type.

But, somewhere near the middle, the narrative encounters the Civil War. In this moment real photographs of the event are shown on screen as voiceovers float in with disconnected commentary on the war. A few of the pictures are oriented horizontally, leaving the rest of the screen black. It looks like, and I hate to say this, at worst a PowerPoint Presentation and at best a History Channel special.

A Quiet Passion has drawn praise as a solidly feminist film. If the latest definition of feminism is a main character who doesn’t marry, I hazard to say we can ask for more. Emily doesn’t seem to put off marriage for art, but rather has little romantic interests to begin with. There’s one failed attempt at adultery, one briefly interested party, but she is never more than bitter. Emily wails that she’s simply too ugly.

No man ever tells her she can’t write. In fact, Emily politely asks her father’s permission if she could please write during the early morning hours while everyone else is still sleeping.

This film is carried by its beautiful cinematography and its smart camera work, but even that leaves something to be desired.

Like Emily Dickenson’s own poetry, with its characteristic dashes, A Quiet Passion is disjointed and a bit difficult to interpret.