Monday, May 20, 2013

A Handful of Dust, featuring the always-amazing Kristin Scott Thomas

I consider the years 1984 and 1988 the two best years of the 80s for films. Those two years contained many wonderful movies and noteworthy performances. One of those performances that stands out to me is that of Kristin Scott Thomas in the 1988 film A Handful of Dust. Directed by Charles Sturridge, the film is set in England during the 1930s. Scott Thomas plays Brenda, the wife a landed aristocrat named Tony. The duo reside in a large estate in the countryside with their young son. Despite the fact that nothing appears to be lacking in Brenda's life, she seems to have grown bored with the relative isolation and the monotonous routine of living in Tony’s ancestral home, known as Hetton Abbey.

A Handful of DustHetton Abbey

After a weekend visit from a friend of Tony’s named Thomas, who’s of a lower social rank, Brenda decides to spend time in London, as she has developed a special interest in Thomas. She fancies Thomas and wishes to get to know him better. She thus begins traveling back and forth from Hetton Abbey to London on a fairly frequent basis, first under the pretext that she’s going visit her sister. Later, she decides to rent a flat in London. It just so happens that the woman she’s renting the flat from is the mother of Thomas. Brenda then very willingly enters into an affair with Thomas, seeing him whenever she’s in London, all the while maintaining the illusion that she simply wants to spend some time away from the idleness of Hetton Abbey to relish the liveliness of London.

A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust
A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust

Brenda’s trusting and unsuspecting husband has no clue of what’s really going on, though a couple of other people within their social circle are fully aware of the circumstances. She even convinces him to let her sign up for an Economics course -- more of a reason to spend time in London. It’s during one of her stays in London that an unexpected family tragedy leads her back to Hetton Abbey. Once there, she’s determined make the definitive choice to leave Tony. She returns to London to reunite with Thomas, and writes a letter to Tony to inform him that she had been having an affair with Thomas and intends to marry him. She then files for divorce from Tony and seeks a large financial settlement from him, which incidentally would require him to lose his ancestral home.

A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust
A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust

Tony refuses to grant Brenda the divorce, and instead chooses to travel abroad for a few months. He ventures to South America with an explorer friend of his, and that voyage, as it turns out, will change his destiny and that of Brenda.

A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust

The role of Brenda was the breakout performance for Scott Thomas, and it’s a pity that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Though I must admit that 1988 was a very competitive year for actresses in leading roles. The film boasts a great cast which includes Judi Dench, James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Angelica Huston, and Alec Guinness who plays an elderly loner living amidst native Indians in the Amazonian jungle. Altogether, this a very good film which managed to snag an Oscar nomination for its beautiful costume design.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Resurrection: One of Ellen Burstyn’s best performances

In the 1980 film Resurrection, Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn plays a woman who undergoes a near-death experience following a car accident. She subsequently develops a supernatural power to heal the sick, apparently as an after-effect of having survived the near-death experience.

Resurrection poster
The film starts off showing Burstyn’s character Edna going about her daily life with her husband Joe in California. Edna decides to buy Joe a new car for his birthday, which she presents to him that very day after he gets out of work. The couple then decides to go for a joy ride in their new car, with Joe driving. Once on the road, Joe loses control of the car in an attempt to avoid running over a young boy who had carelessly skateboarded onto the street, and the car ends up crashing over a cliff.

Joe dies in the accident, whereas Edna sees herself being pulled into a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end, indicative of a near-death experience. In the tunnel, she happens to see people that she knew from her past who had already died, some of whom she doesn’t immediately recognize. She winds up waking up in a hospital bed, unable to move. There, she learns that Joe is dead, and her doctor informs her of the severity of her condition. She’s got damage to her lower back including a blood clot on her spinal cord, and she learns that she won’t be able to move her legs because the main nerves in both legs have been severed below the knee.

Burstyn ResurrectionResurrection near-death
Resurrection near-deathBurstyn Resurrection

Devastated upon hearing of what has happened, Edna decides to move back to her native Kansas with her father, who had come to visit her at the hospital. He drives her from California to Kansas, and on the way there, they make a stop at an isolated gas station manned by an elderly male attendant. Unbeknownst to Edna, that gas station will play an important role later in her life.

Not too long after they arrive in the rural small town where Edna grew up, she comes to the realization that she has a power to heal people of their injuries and afflictions -- something that she can accomplish by simply placing her hands on their bodies. From that point on, she becomes determined to not only help heal other people but to heal her own self of the injuries that she sustained in the car accident.

Burstyn ResurrectionShepard Resurrection
Burstyn ResurrectionBurstyn Resurrection

The townspeople grow impressed with Edna’s ability to heal, though some suspect that the healing power she possesses is in reality the work of the Devil. One of the naysayers happens to be a devoutly religious man whose son, named Cal (played by Sam Shepard), becomes Edna’s love interest. Amidst the town’s speculation over Edna’s healing power, a couple of scientific researchers from California who have witnessed some of her public healings invite her back to California to conduct tests on her power. Cal himself eventually develops a suspicion of his own with regard to Edna’s power, wondering if there is a divine source to it.

Burstyn rightfully received an Oscar nomination for her work in this film. It's a believable performance, and one I consider among her best ever. The film features striking music composed and conducted by Maurice Jarre. Overall, this is a very good film which I happen to like a lot. Though I must say, it seemed almost like this film was a satire, made with the intention of poking fun at the deep-rooted religious convictions that can typically be found in the small towns of America’s heartland.