It does depend on one’s sensibility, some have a love for words, a relish for the words and their meanings, and wordplay; others have a passion for pictures, colours and design, the immediate impact of a picture which is worth a thousand words.
This is one of the premises for this romantic comedy – with some edge.
At first we see Clive Owen as Jack Marcus, a talented literature teacher, urging his students to be creative in their imaginations and write up images that have not been heard before. He has an eager honours class because this is a distinguished Preparatory School. We see Dina Delsanto, an art teacher from a school which is closing down and who is hired to teach the same eager honours class. The initial encounter has a sardonic edge to it, Jack trying to make an impression and inviting her to participate in his game of going through the alphabet successively and naming words with five syllables. Dina is not particularly impressed.
So, it is clear, that Jack is a man of words and Dina is a woman of pictures. In their arguments, we see a touch of the battle of the sexes, then the competitiveness leads to a war between words and pictures, the aim of the war is to have a confrontation in the presence of all the staff and students, Jack to provide 1000 words and Dina to provide a picture.
In the meantime, we see that Jack is an alcoholic, his job is under threat, he is to undergo a review, with interviews by many of the staff. And, in the meantime, the audience has seen that Dina walks with a crutch because of her rheumatoid arthritis. Jack’s drinking takes the better of him as he makes a show himself in a local elite restaurant. Dina holds him in something of contempt.
As regards drama, there is the focus on Jack, his editing of the school magazine, the promise of a poem, where he uses a deception to promote himself, his sense of embarrassment in the presence of his son and, because of Dina, leading him to AA meetings. Dina is cared for by her sister and has an operation for knee reconstruction. And, audiences anticipating some kind of rapport between the two will not be disappointed -although this leads to further antagonisms.
Quite a deal of attention is given to paintings and discussion about paintings, especially the need for a painting not just to appeal to the brain but also to the heart and emotions. Quite a deal of attention is given to the value of words, the syllables game, the derivations and meanings of words.
The film was directed by Fred Schepisi who made his mark in Australian filmmaking in the 1970s with The Devil’s Playground and, his masterpiece, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. Schepisi has directed quite a number of international film including The Russia House and Roxanne. His previous film to this was The Eye of the Storm from the novel by Patrick White.
The film is interesting because of the two characters and the place of this film in their careers. They clash – but not forever. So, this film is in the tradition of romantic comedies but with welcome emphasis on the value of words and on the power of pictures.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting | Uploaded by: fr Rick Healey