Eyre Turbulence

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Cary Fukunaga’s JANE EYRE is a cracker.

(I remember The Scotsman‘s film critic greeting BLADE RUNNER at Edinburgh Film Fest with the opening sentence, “Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a cracker,” and thinking it was simultaneously slightly cool and slightly shocking that he should jettison the dignity of his position in such an enthusiastic, fanboyish way, but there are times when that’s appropriate.)

The director of True Detective serves up a smart period film that feels modern in all the right ways. The costumes and settings take us directly into the Bronte-world, and the authentic candlelight cinematography of Adriano Goldman allows us to feel actually present in a way not possible until very recently (Kubrick’s much-vaunted candlelight scenes in BARRY LYNDON still required huge banks of candles offscreen, erasing the flicker and rendering the effect not totally realistic, while the extremely narrow focal depth forced the actors to remain rooted to the spot.) I was reminded of The Knick — though Fukunaga doesn’t go quite so far as to deploy an electronic score to show just how modern he can go. The understated Dario Marinelli piano and violin accompaniment chosen has an appealing delicacy. You don’t want to get too clever for your own good, and what works for Soderbergh wouldn’t here.

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The performances are also strongly naturalistic — Mia Wasikowski and Michael Fassbender not only speak in authentic-sounding Yorkshire accents (and for once Rochester sounds properly regional), they have absorbed the accents so that they are able to concentrate fully on each other.

I didn’t see the popular BBC version, so I mainly recall the Zefferelli on ’96, which strikes me as inferior in every way, save one. I had remembered Maria Schneider, as the first Mrs. Rochester, having a more fully-written role. I actually remembered her having dialogue. Not so — here’s the scene on YouTube.

Some of Zefferelli’s editing choices seem whimsical — there’s an unexpected high angle shot that seems inserted to protect us from the performances rather than to allow us to understand the scene — Jim Clark’s account of editing for Franco Z in his book Dream Repairman (he worked on YOUNG TOSCANINI) kind of suggests that Zefferelli will favour in the edit whoever he happens to be on good terms with that day — but Schneider’s reaction shots are vivid and articulate. It’s often the best policy to play mad people as sane (cf Wasikowska in MAPS TO THE STARS and Kathleen Byron in BLACK NARCISSUS, who is terrifying but consciously decided to play it sane in defiance of screenplay and director), and you can tell Mrs. R understands everything her despised husband is saying, though he talks as if she is a dumb animal. Schneider, the madwoman in the attic of European cinema, had a lot to draw on here.

Not that Valentina Cervi is in any way inadequate as Bertha in the Fukunaga — she has the appropriate menace — it’s just that I think Zeff pulled off a casting coup that would be hard to beat.

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Also in Fukunaga’s cast and of note: Judi Dench can’t suppress her obvious intelligence to play a silly housekeeper, but we don’t mind; Jamie Bell manages to not annoy in the most thankless role; Simon McBurney always adds a touch of the unexpected; Amelia Clarkson is a terrific Young Jane. The idea of starting in media res and exploring the story via flashbacks allows Fukunaga to intercut a child and an adult who don’t really look anything alike and make us forget to bother about that, a bit like Bunuel and his two leading ladies in THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE —

— a casting decision that came about after Bunuel fired a recalcitrant Maria Schneider, thus closing the circle here and allowing me to escape. Sound of footsteps, door slam. Mad cackle.

 

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14 Responses to “Eyre Turbulence”

  1. F here – This is the only version of Jane Eyre that has made me scream in terror. We followed this up with the forties version, which also caused me to raise my voice, but only to shout out that I wanted to smash Joan Fontaine’s face in.

  2. Margaret O’Brien wasn’t spared the wrath either.

    Without stressing the Gothic elements unduly, the 2011 version has a lot of good scary bits.

  3. I’m quite taken with Mia Wasikowska. She works a great deal in very interesting movies. I particularly love her turn in Gus Van Sant’s unjustly maligned (and barely released) Restless, and as a trouble-making vampire in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive.

    She will shortly be seen in yet another go at Madame Bovary with the fabulous Ezra Miller as Leon.

  4. Yes, apart from Tim Burton’s Alice, which she was right to try, and is OK in, and did well out of (it’s just a dreadful film), I’ve mainly admired her choices. She makes a spirited Jane — quiet but tough.

  5. F here – I love Mia. She’s quite wonderful in this. Perfect northern English accent (in fact ALL her English accents are different and accurate. Can any Americans out there tell me if her US accents are believable?) and just the right amount of steeliness under the quiet demeanor. She’s incredibly versatile and natural. A consummate screen actor.

  6. F – I also adored her bratty vampire in the Jarmusch film. There’s not much of her but she makes an impression!

  7. Steve Elworth Says:

    i really, really like this version and I have seen the BBC and the Stevenson but not the Zefferelli. Mia is one of the greatest actresses now working with an amazing chameleon quality. She can go from playing a California teenager with two moms to a bratty vampire to a crazy girl with burns in Maps to the Stars. I am really excited to see her performance of EMMA in Madame Bovary.

  8. Nice to see the love for this movie. I really liked Wasikowska in it as well. Her American accent(s) seem just fine to me, by the way. I suppose my biggest complaint about this Jane Eyre was that Judi Dench was wasted in her role, but yeah, not a big deal.

    As for other adaptations of Jane Eyre, let’s not forget one of the best (and certainly the best gothic atmosphere): I Walked with a Zombie.

  9. Tom Conway is no Rochester, but even that works, displacing the interest onto the other elements, which are more than capable of sustaining it.

  10. I didn’t know that about “Barry Lyndon”. Now I’m taken with the nutty idea that the static quality of all of the scenes in the film wasn’t a deliberate “painterly” effect, but something Kubrick was forced to impose on the whole film so that the candlelit scenes didn’t look so out of place.

  11. It’s probably a combination of the two. He was certainly looking at paintings, and there’s certainly a tendency towards stasis in his later work, for all the steadicamery. Even the dynamic Nicholson ends up frozen. But the shallow focal depth was a big issue.

  12. Thanks so much for this post about the 2011 JANE EYRE. I had not bothered with it as this novel has been filmed so many times. Watched it tonight and was stunned at how good it is. I must admit I like the 40’s version much more than you do, largely under the spell of Herrmann’s score, one of his best. In any case, I would most certainly have seen it without your post. Really remarkable film with talent in all areas I was not that familiar with.

  13. Thanks for letting me know! Always nice when a recommendation pays off. I was a little wary of it for the same reason, and it was the True Detective connection that intrigued me.

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