'Jane Eyre' is stark, engaging, brooding

Mia Waskowska, who portrayed Alice in Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," is a remarkable actress and perfectly cast in the recently released "Jane Eyre."

The story, told in flashbacks, is of an orphaned child, sent to Lowood, a boarding school, by a spiteful aunt who was charged with her care.

At Lowood, she is subjected to a rigorous curriculum to include sadistic, unprovoked punishments, delivered for what seems to be the sheer pleasure of torturing the innocent and the defenseless. Dickensian in its cruelty.

Despite a childhood that would have damaged most children beyond repair, Jane grows into a young woman of remarkable intelligence and courage, demonstrated when she finds a position as a governess to a young French child. She comes to reside at Thornfield Hall — striking in its size and grandeur, stark and isolated, surrounded by the damp and blustery Yorkshire moors — owned by Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender).

There is a sense about the house that other than discussions of housekeeping matters, the servants, to include Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), go for days without saying a word. That is until Mr. Rochester returns.

The story, though familiar, is wonderfully adapted for the screen by Moira Buffini and stunningly photographed by Ariano Goldman. Goldman captures, in wide shots, not only the isolation of the stretching North England countryside, sepia and windswept, but conveys a sense of melancholy that has gripped the mansion's interiors for years.

This is a house that holds a terrible secret. And this is a house that improbably nurtures a relationship between Jane, ever plain, bound by the severe conventions of Victorian formality, a formality reflected in the restrained and stilted language of the time, and Mr. Rochester, as she calls him.

What makes this story so compelling is that it is a character study of a young woman who refuses to be defined by her past nor the rigidity of her times or station.

She was never encouraged to define for herself the meaning of freedom and independence — what Victorian woman was? And yet she does. And when asked, she speaks her mind. Behind her unvarnished exterior, her dark dresses, her hair wound tightly in a bun, her face free of even the hint of blush, is a keen intelligence. A fact that makes her all the more alluring to Edward Rochester.

Like most English women of the 19th century, she was regarded as property. And if a woman such as Jane was to survive, it was through the good graces of a man. Women of no means led lives of sustained uncertainty. Charlotte Bronte, like Jane Austen, wrote captivatingly about such women, and though they might have been called romance novels today, they possess a startling subtext of feminism and equality that was decidedly not then the norm, a subtext that might have encouraged future suffragettes and feminists.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Sin Nombre") does a marvelous job of capturing the period as well as creating an engaging if brooding film with a superb ensemble of actors.


If you love movies and, over the years, have watched the performances of Catherine Deneuve, then you will find "Potiche" thoroughly enjoyable. It is a breezy, light-hearted comedy as only the French can construct, and Deneuve, along with Gerard Depardieu, enjoys herself immensely.

The year is 1977, and Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) is a housewife who has been marginalized all of her married life by her wealthy, industrialist husband, Robert (Fabrice Luchini).

Robert, however, is more than an insufferable male chauvinist pig, to use the parlance of the period, but is a skirt-chasing, cantankerous, self-absorbed king of the castle who has no qualms about engaging in dalliances with other women, to include his long suffering secretary, Nadege (Karin Viard).

Meanwhile, Suzanne has become, over the years, his Potiche, meaning a type of trophy wife. A Potiche, however, is not a glamorous younger woman who replaces the older wife — she who has devoted decades of her life being supportive as well as bearing and mothering their children. She is and continues to be the woman who has kept his house, looked the other way, ran interference with the children, now grown, while leading a not surprisingly hermetic life.

Robert is content with his life as long as his needs are met, to include his wife, his secretary and the unions at the factory (he makes umbrellas). Suzanne is expected to keep her opinions and criticisms to herself.

As circumstances would have it, things abruptly change and Suzanne is forced to step into the role of the CEO of the plant, bringing about more changes and demonstrating her latent talent for business and leadership. She turns to the local mayor, Babin (Depardieu), for advice and direction, which he is happy to offer.

Of course, things get complicated, in a nice, comedic way, and it seems that these two great actors, national treasures in France to be sure, are having a wonderful time and are the central reason to watch "Potiche."

Regarding Deneuve, my personal favorite will always be "Indochine," set in Indochina during the 1930s. Deneuve portrays a plantation owner and displays, once again, her long-honed dramatic talent.

Her filmography is astonishing; she has made countless films, fashioning a magnificent career, her beauty and talent timeless.

Few of those films have been comedies, and it is surprising to see how truly funny she can be in "Potiche," never letting her role slip into farce and seeming to enjoy what is, at least in part, a satire.

Restrepo (on DVD)

"Restrepo" was nominated for an Oscar in 2011 for Best Feature Length Documentary. It didn't win; but no matter.

The film is powerful, wrenching and should be required viewing for all Americans. What it manages to do, in so many graphic ways, as only a well-made documentary can, is remind us that indeed we continue to fight a decade-long war in one of the most inhospitable and labyrinthine of all places where our young men and women continue to suffer and, tragically, die.

What is startling, if not inconceivable, is that we, here in America, go about our lives as if not one troop is in harm's way. The war in Afghanistan has drifted so far into our peripheral vision that it is barely discernible.

"Restrepo" makes it discernible. Without a political agenda, without voice-over, the film shows the grinding resolve and sheer terror of a platoon of the U.S. Army's Battle Company that is manning a remote outpost, Restrepo, on a scree-strewn mountain in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan's Kunar Province.

Filmmakers Hetherington and Junger were embedded with the troops for their tour 15-month tour. It was a long and traumatic period — soliders were wounded and killed by an enemy that was seemingly invisible, though ever lethal, where the men of the village were either friendlies or Taliban; there was simply no way of knowing. Suffice it to say that none of the locals were welcoming.

Outpost Restrepo is named after a popular medic, Juan Restrepo, who was shot twice in the neck on a patrol, two months after his tour began, and died in a medivac helicopter on the way to an aid station. His death was taken hard by the platoon.

The cost in lives and treasure continues, day after day. And what is being endured by our troops is unimaginable. The question that is begged in "Restrepo" is why? What is truly being achieved by the sacrifice of our sons and daughters?

The film answers these question by pointing out, without comment, that Outpost Restrepo was abandoned not long after the 2nd Platoon left, at the end of its tour.

When Junger and Hetherington speak with the soldiers later, in Italy, they seemed haunted by their experience. The hurt in their eyes, the pain etched in their faces, still remains, and it is all but certain that they would not quickly recover, if ever. War, nihilistic and inexplicable, is never over though the last shot is fired and the guns are, however briefly, put away.

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