Sunday, June 28, 2009

SYLVIA - dirge

The first film I ever watched at the London Film Fest started a trend of disappointing opening and closing night galas - the programming dictated by commercial interests rather than artistic merit. The movie was Christine Jeffs' dismal biopic of Sylvia Plath: acclaimed poet; wife of the adulterous Ted Hughes; mother to two small children; and suicide. And if you think I'm being reductive, then that is exactly what this movie does: it reduces Plath and Hughes' relationship to a daytime TV melodrama. Oh how pretty tony, young Sylvia (Gwyneth Paltrow) looks! See how her hair shines! See how that devilishly handsome Ted Hughes gets tired of her and betrays her! See how she is martyred in a dismal British flat in dismal post-war London! Oh, how Paltrow emotes inner pain! The whole thing was utterly dull and unconvincing. The fault, however, does not lie with the actors, nor with the score, cinematography or any other matter of execution. It lies in the movie's conception as a touching homage to Sylvia rather than a genuinely engaged, insightful analysis of what was, by all accounts, a passionate marriage and a painful suicide that cruelly left behind small children. The resulting film simultaneously caused offence to Plath's family for daring to be made at all - but causes offence to its viewers by refusing to actually delve into the emotional torment at its heart. It is the same emotional evation that frustrated me in Christine Jeffs' new film, SUNSHINE CLEANING - another film that deals with quite dark, depressing subject matter and yet handles it with all the willingness to truly engage of a rom-com (but without the benefit of actual laughs).

SYLVIA played London 2003 and opened in 2003 and 2004. It is available on DVD.

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