' Cinema Romantico: A Star Was Born...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Star Was Born...

As Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures" opens we are introduced to Melanie Lynskey's frightfully inward, dreamy Pauline, a Christchurch,  New Zealand schoolgirl. One routine morning, Juliet (Kate Winslet), is introduced to Pauline's class by the school's headmistress. It's French class and so Juliet is asked to pick a French name for herself. She chooses Antoinette. The teacher, obligatorily haggard Miss Waller, returns to the lesson.

MISS WALLER: "Now, irregular verbs in the present subjunctive...'qu'il vienne'."
JULIET: "Excuse me, Miss Waller... you've made a mistake. 'Je doutais qu'il vienne' is in fact the spoken subjunctive."
MISS WALLER: "It is customary to stand when addressing a teacher...'Antoinette.'"

Juliet stands.

JULIET: "You should have written 'vint.'"


The grin. Goddam, that grin. Films are fantasy, and "Heavenly Creatures" is specifically about fantasy (albeit disturbingly so) and that haughty fuck you in the form of correct grammar was Kate the Great embodying the fantasy of every fed-up current, former or future schoolchild who just wants to tell his or her smarmy schoolteacher to piss right on off. It pulls us into her orbit, just like it pulls Pauline into her orbit, in a cinematic flash.

Back in August when the grand dame, acting empress Lauren Bacall passed, I noted in my obit that her very first scene in the movies was the sort of introductory sequence a great many great actresses are never afforded. And it's true. For every Lauren Bacall wondering if Humphrey Bogart's got a match, there's Hope Davis as a Parisian ticket agent telling Catherine O'Hara to try stand-by. Kate the Great, however, pulled a stone-cold Bacall.

"Heavenly Creatures" was released theatrically in America twenty years ago today, and with its release Ms. Winslet made her feature film debut, and she debuted by setting that sniveling professeur de français straight. It's like Kate was striding into the classroom of every starlet in Hollywood, sizing up their acting equations on the blackboard and saying, "Yeah, your notes are nice and all, but I'll just take it from here."

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