Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Words and Pictures
Fred Schepisi's summer tale "Words and Pictures" colors a landscape in the genre of a Penny Marshall character study with all floral hues, lightness and charm.
Jack (Clive Owen) is a stubbled and wincing high school English teacher with scorched tweeds. Dina (Juliette Binoche) is a frosty art dame who, with her alabaster skin, sable hair and cadmium lips resembles a suburban wicked queen from "Malificent".
Jack being a little like Bukowski and Kramer from Seinfeld is quietly cynical and chaotically spinning by turns. He is either sucking on a lemon or perpetually off balance in a mad dance.
Jack is down and almost out, his post in jeopardy due to his alcoholic antics.
A new rival enters in the form of Dina, a gaunt and angular prickly pear. Her frigid stoicism is as bracing as the splint she wears on her hand to keep her debilitating arthritis at bay.
These two isolated ships break ice by playing reluctant word games and then begin to acidly spar. In class, word gets out that Dina thinks that images take precedence over words while Jack as a literature teacher takes the opposite view. He playfully suggests a contest with their students duking it out in the disciplines of poetry and painting to show superiority of expression.
While aspects of this story do have a paint by number feel, (watch for the character Swint who is almost identical in type and behavior to Fred in "Palo Alto", a smarmy braggart delighting in the misfortune of others, or the fact that Jack has a judgmental son) the drama offered by Owen and Binoche make a proper impasto.
Watching this actress create her actual real life canvases makes the whole crushed valentine in violet business lively and entertaining. Binoche brings out huge towering brushes on pulleys. She actually throws her body into the paintings here, transforming herself into a long, yet contorted wick spewing ashes of panic that just might, if she's lucky, point to another place.
This is one film where we can actually feel the lusciousness of buttery paint and get a spark in our eyes---the richness of endless blue, a sizzle of orange, a jet of abundant green.
There are the usual comeuppances here: uptight principals, drunken pitfalls, refused apologies, not to mention a predictable speech about language and painting coming together to form a vibrant and meaningful universe ala "Dead Poets Society".
But even with these ready-made elements, the dramatic authenticity meshed and with some slick editing make "Words and Pictures" a romantic oil pastel that is arresting throughout.
Write Ian at email@example.com