Our Rating: 3 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
I've passed this video approximately five hundred times in the library, and always paused to read the back and look longingly at the impressive cast list. But it was only after gaining reassurance that the R-rating wasn't excessive that I decided to give it a run-through. The result is an interesting style of filming within an interesting movie. The first half hour move gratingly slow, but after Depp, Ricci, and Blanchett come into the scene, it picks up significantly. For a WWII movie, it's surprisingly free of Nazis and instead focuses on the romantic relationships of two young women in Paris. One of them is the beautiful Russian dancer Lola (Cate Blanchett), and the other is the innocent Jewess singer (Christina Ricci) who longs for meaning in her life. The story begins in Russia with the departure of Jewish men for America, intending to send for their families once enough money is saved to transport them safely.
The heroine's father goes with a promise to return for her one day, leaving her in the care of her aging grandmother. But turmoil in Russia forces the little girl to travel with strangers into England, where she is adopted by a British family, given the name of "Suzie" and forced to speak the English language. Possessed of a beautiful singing voice, she attempts in later years to get a job as a stage singer and there meets Lola, a lonely woman who's highest aspiration is to garner the affections of a wealthy man. While in Paris, Lola is introduced to Dante Dominio (John Turturro), a famous Italian opera singer. Playing "hard to get," the young woman eventually snares his passion, while Suzie is drawn instead to Cesar, a member of the gypsy band, who is much looked down on by society. His first and only passion seems to be his magnificent white stallion, which is often used in theatrical productions.
The times are changing. There are rumors of war in surrounding countries, as Germany attempts to expand its borders. Suzie has not practiced her religious faith since childhood, but still remains a member of the "chosen race." While she fights prejudice and attempts to break through the cold outer resolve of Cesar, Dante becomes aware of her roots. Lola is also realizing that her newfound lover is somewhat more than she can handle. Eventually the two women will be called to forsake the ties of love and make a desperate flight to save their lives as France succumbs to the inevitable invasion of the Nazis. Though this film is profoundly slow-moving (I almost quit watching it several times during the opening scenes, just because there's almost no dialogue), it's also beautifully produced. The camera shots are unique, playing off the intricate and individual beauty of each cast member; the story is interesting without being overly weighted down with melodrama, and the music at times can be absolutely haunting.
It is the performances which really stand out. Johnny Depp barely has twelve lines to scrape together, but his aloof, mysterious, even slightly sinister gypsy horseman is captivating. John Turturro plays the indignant, self-obsessed egotist opera singer with just the right amount of sarcasm. Cate Blanchett pulls off a surprisingly excellent Russian accent, but also ads depth to her character through self-expression. But the film really belongs to Christina Ricci, whose soulful eyes and quiet presence manage to steal the scene out from underneath her costars. The story seems to have significance, but is never overly weighty. The ending comes as something of a surprise. Overall it's a good film, but won't appeal to many people because of its lack of dialogue. I'm not a big fan of visual rather than intellectual, but this film manages to capture both. It's something I wouldn't mind watching again in order to capture the more subtle aspects of the script. Therefore it's a pity that filmmakers chose to incorporate the sexual aspect of the production, which gives it an R-rating where it could have easily earned a PG. There is an absence of language (only one use of sh*t when speaking of a horse's natural functions), and no graphic violence (homes are burned, people presumably perish in a ship bombing).
There are about four scenes of sexual content, all of them fairly short but containing movement, heavy breathing, and moaning. There's no nudity in any of the scenes, but they're still graphic and totally unnecessary to the plot. Lola wears a few immodest dancing outfits, and is seen once or twice with her bra showing as she dresses for the show. The theology also stands on slightly rocky ground. Dante is a hypocrite, living in sin with Lola and yet seeking empathy from Mary in a church setting, pleading that he might use his talents for good. He later attacks Suzie verbally by reminding her that "the Jews killed Christ!" (She refused his romantic advances.) We learn a character gave up his faith in God after believing his family was killed in an air raid. Without the sexual content, and with the opening scenes trimmed down to about half the time, as well as the addition of some sort of spiritual redemption, The Man Who Cried could have been an excellent film. It's cinematically gorgeous to watch. The acting is outstanding. The climax is both believable and shocking. But instead we get a slightly watered-down love story between two people overly eager to leap into a sexual relationship, and a heroine who never acknowledges her initial belief in God. These flaws make the production disappointing from a Christian perspective, as is the needless sexual content. They could have gotten the same idea across without throwing it into the viewer's face.