4 November 2005 | britishsteamwave
Romancing the Stone
It must have been an interesting film to attract such an array of comment which both support the film and criticises it. The interest for me lies not in the fact that it is of itself a good film or a bad film, nor in the fact that it is a remake of a Beatty/Leigh film. The interest lies in the fact that such a range of comments both approving and disapproving could be made about the performances of the actors, including Dennehy, with such vehemence. I must say that I do not find comments like; "He's hot! He gets to take his shirt off a lot" any more an objective comment about acting ability than Leigh was much better at acting 'the neurotic' than Mirren because that wasn't acting either, she really was that way! Williams often concentrates upon characters who are emotionally fractured or ragged: Kowolski in "... Streetcar ..." and Laura Wingfield in " ... Menagerie." Karen Stone is likewise emotionally frail. Cossetted by a rich husband for years and harbouring doubts about her acting talent, she is also physically unfulfilled. When her husband apologises to her for not fulfilling the physical role in their marriage, she retorts: "If I'd wanted to behave like an animal, I would have married an animal" but clearly she does want to behave like an animal as is evidenced by a string of marcetta that escort her in Rome. She is damaged goods, She is emotionally scarred and physically and emotionally vulnerable, a fact recognised by the Contessa, a vengeful, embittered, exploitative, parasitic harpy, whose business it is to know these things and arrange for a remedy. Ironically, Karen is anything but hardened like stone, whatever her name suggests. She embarks on a series of assignations culminating in Paolo, an arrogant aristocrat whose genius for story-telling rivals the Brothers Grimm. We cannot be sure he is even a Conte, when Karen attempts to phone him using the number on the gilt-edged card he has given her, the line rings strangely, but not unexpectedly, dead. Nor is Karen Stone unaware of what is going on. She remarks upon the series of young men that the Contessa has supplied, all of whom coincidentally had some friend in dire (fiscal) need. But she is content to be 'shook down' (to a degree) in order to have the attention of these attractive young men who could and would do with enthusiasm what her husband could not. I wanted to shake the woman, not for her stupidity because she wasn't stupid, but for her susceptibility and vulnerability. I wanted to say: "Act you age, woman, you're making a fool of yourself." Mirren's eyes flicker almost imperceptibly when Paolo changes his story about the six brigade members who were killed. First, they were killed "on the plains of Africa" but hours later they were killed "on the boat". He doesn't bat an eyelid, she does! But neither of them seem to care. He is so self-assured in his supposed aristocratic arrogance and she is so needy, the lie passes.
Williams's preoccupations were generally local, or at least American. In this story, however, he has introduced a European/American theme and I wondered if Williams had not been recently reading some Henry James. Here we have the American ingenue confronted by the might and deviousness of the European sophistication and tradition. The Italians may be impoverished, they may be reduced to running scams and fixing up lonely ladies with gigolos, they may be living in penury and have to beg but they have the weight of the European tradition and culture to support them in adversity. So the age of Rome is mentioned at least twice, overstating its age by some hundreds of years, and Paolo draws attention to the oldest street in the city. Whether it is or not, it serves his purpose to say it is. But to Karen he says: "You are only fifty years old" which to her should be an unspoken criticism, and shocks her that he should say it aloud. But he is really saying: You Americans have no history compared to us", a sentiment espoused earlier by the Contessa who opines that any country with less than 400 years of history, has no tradition. We see in advance the pathetic contempt that the vanquished European has for the triumphant ( and sometimes triumphal) American. It is fully articulated in the last scene with the Contessa in a bitter attack born of frustration. Without assessing the relative moralities of Karen Stone or the Contessa or Paolo, it is the American who morally crumbles at the end, inviting an unwashed, unkempt, possibly very smelly young man (he's a bit too old to be an 'urchin') into her bedroom. Her degradation is complete. It doesn't require anyone to murder her. She is already destroyed. The Italians still have their culture, traditions, and history to fall back on.
Much has been said of the acting of various characters so I don't want to comment on this other than to say that Olivier Martinez seems to have received special attention for being wooden. Having not seen him in anything else, it's hard to make a comprehensive statement about his acting but I thought he conveyed the stiffness and arrogance that one would expect of a 'titled' person. Others may disagree.