Words And Pictures

June 6, 2014

in Movies

Film (2013)

Directed by Fred Schepisi

Screenplay by Gerald Di Pego

Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge, MA

With Clive Owen (Jack Marcus), Juliette Binoche (Dina Delsanto)

Clive Owen as Jack Marcus, Juliette Binoche as Dina Delsanto in 'Words and Pictures'

Clive Owen as Jack Marcus
Juliette Binoche as Dina Delsanto
in “Words and Pictures”
Photo: Doane Gregory
Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

A romantic comedy about two middle-aged prep school teachers, a writer and a painter, both compromised by illness, who passionately challenge their students about the relative merits of their chosen media.

He’s an alcoholic and she’s afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, but they both have healthy egos. They seem to enjoy battling with one another about whether words or pictures are more effective as expressive media and engage their students in a staged battle to determine the outcome. Their passionate spats are filled with word games, and, naturally, the friction turns to attraction.

We’ve seen this kind of setup a million times before, but here, with Clive Owen (Jack Marcus) and Juliette Binoche (Dina Delsanto), it has its own particular charms. He plays a charismatic and endearing but irascible drunk and she’s a single-minded but frustrated artist desperately resisting being felled by her ailment. There is almost nothing to the plot, but that doesn’t matter too much. They squabble, fall in love, but, complicated by the obvious characterological shortcomings, more severe challenges arise.

Jack’s psychological wounds cause him to take a strong and tragically vulnerable turn, reminiscent of something in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale (2005), but from a different generational angle. Love for his work and for Dina provides an opportunity for it to rectify in some way.

The words vs. pictures theme is a narrative ploy that provides a little structure, but not much. It offers a way to get the badly behaved writer and the ailing painter to teasingly engage with another while giving their students the sense that this is an important issue. A secondary theme involving the abusive pursuit and ridicule of a female student by a male student does raise a serious issue, but gets caught in the backwaters of the main plot, not treated thoroughly enough to do it justice.

Clive Owen as Jack Marcus, Juliette Binoche as Dina Delsanto in 'Words and Pictures'

Clive Owen as Jack Marcus
Juliette Binoche as Dina Delsanto
in “Words and Pictures”
Photo: Doane Gregory
Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

The characters that Owen and Binoche play are intentionally oversized for their quaint prep school setting, making them more mysterious and alluring. Dina has a determined intensity that frames a quiet sensuality, stimulated by Jack’s unsettling verbal prods into ironic surprise at her own emotional engagement. Jack’s self-demolishing creative spirit, hiding out from his has-been-ness in a schoolroom, squeezes tragedy through the pores of his rugged, almost matinee idol, looks. There is a chemistry between them, even if it’s the somewhat histrionic kind that’s cooked up in a high school lab purely for effect.

Despite that oversizing, this is relatively light fare, with some psychological drama to spice up its fairly bland premise; though not overly subtle in its tastes, it goes down relatively easily nonetheless.

– BADMan

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