Sunday, September 7, 2014

Video review: "Words and Pictures"

Maybe it’s because of Robin Williams’ recent passing, but “Words and Pictures” reminds me a lot of “Dead Poets Society.” Though instead of featuring one brilliant, kooky and passionate teacher, we get two – and they fall in love.

The setup is that the pair, who both work at an elite prep school, are antagonists whose clash of philosophies and personalities drives their students to creative heights. Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) is a famous painter now suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. She claims not to care about forming personal relationships with her students or colleagues; for her, it’s all about creating images that sear themselves onto the brain and the soul.

Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) was once a famous writer, now a wastrel drunk who serves as the school’s longstanding jester and provocateur. Despite his self-destructive tendencies, “Mr. Mark” cares like hell about inspiring his pupils, cajoling them through highly unconventional means – he dubs haiku poetry “the first Twitter.”

After hearing Delsanto make disparaging comments about the power of words, Marcus launches an unofficial war on pictures, which carries them through the school year and various developments, including him being threatened with the loss of his job.

Binoche and Owen make for an appealing couple, a pair of gorgeous middle-aged loners who are so wrapped up in their own egos and miseries that they can’t grasp the golden prize right in front of them. Their banter is caustic and even mean-spirited, yet somehow the magnetic pull between them shines through the insults.

Smart, quirky and sexy, “Words and Pictures” reminds us why learning, and teaching, can be so enriching.

Extra features are somewhat scanty in quantity but substantial in quality. Director Fred Schepisi, a veritable Hollywood legend (“Barbarosa,” “Roxanne,” “Six Degrees of Separation”) still cranking out movies in his 70s, provides a feature-length commentary track. There’s also a 19-minute making-of featurette.



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