Oscar and Lucinda

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Oscar and Lucinda is the much-awaited new film by director Gillian Armstrong whose other recent directorial credits include Little Women (1994) and The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992). The film is set in the 19th century and traces the intertwining lives of the title characters from early childhood. Oscar Hopkins (Ralph Fiennes) is a pale, red-headed boy who grows up in Devon, England, the son of a pious man. He is "called" to the Anglican church and eventually goes to study divinity at Oxford. Here Oscar discovers the game of chance. He becomes a gambling addict. Lucinda Leplastrier (Cate Blanchett), meanwhile, grows up in the Australian countryside. She becomes a wealthy heiress and developes her own weakness for gambling. The two meet en route to Sydney and are linked by their obsession and their seemingly endless aptitude for not quite managing the constraints of proper society. Though Fiennes' performance is somewhat erratic, fluctuating from timid to crazed, newcomer stage actress Cate Blanchett is quirky, lovely and compelling as a "square peg in a world of round holes." Unfortunately, the two do not simmer as a couple. Their lamentably infrequent embraces have an inexplicable lack of passion that forms cracks in the facade of true and destined love necessary to keep the plot afloat.

The fault for this lack of chemistry, however, must also rest on the shoulders of the screenwriter and director. Though it's a love story, Oscar and Lucinda goes down hill after the two characters have come to fully recognized their affection. The time spent in the early lives of the title characters is by far the most intriguing part of the film. It is as if both writer and director lost their focus mid-story and were forced to scramble for ways to keep the plots together.

Though its beginning is promising, the screenplay, written by Laura Jones (adapted from Peter Carey's Booker Prize-winning novel) falls dissapointingly to bits. Jones, who recently wrote the screenplay for The Portrait of a Lady and the upcoming release The Shipping News seems to have the dangerous capacity for getting her claws into good novels, to no good end. I warn novelists on behalf of Carey, to watch out for this woman. The delicately intertwined story lines that start out as complements to one another, become horribly bogged down by the end of Oscar and Lucinda by a trite overdependence on symbolism. Oscar's fear of water and religious upbringing, Lucinda's love of glass and both character's gambling addiction eventually overburden the character development and story with image after cloying image that try to forceconnections that never reveal themselves. The symbolism that sinks the end of Oscar and Lucinda seems unecessary and unrelated to the earlier themes of the plot: symbolism for the sake of symbolism, serving no clear purpose.

Oscar and Lucinda is, however, worth a four dollar Sunday matinee, if only for a two-hour visual escape from city life. The production designer deserves credit for her part in the incredible visual effect of this film. Luciana Arrighi, whose other credits include beautiful and lavishly designed movies such as Howard's End, Sense and Sensibility and The Remains of the Day and director Armstrong create stunning landscapes and images throughout the film, in England and Australia. The soundtrack is delightful, but the real achievment of this film is its breathtaking visual impact. The film is richly painted in wild color and stunningly shot, from costumes to seascapes, overhead shots, to close-ups of Oscar or Lucinda's equally arresting eyes.

I recommend Oscar and Lucinda with a grain of salt. Go to see it expecting a vivid feast for the eyes and ears just don't anticipate satisfaction with the plot or of the heart.

--Caitlin Roper