Jane Austen concocted literary heroines well ahead of their time, albeit none so independent that the institution of marriage was ever truly challenged. The latest cinematic version of Pride & Prejudice -- opening November 23 at the Roxy in Burlington -- gives the ampersand-free 1813 novel something it hardly needs: extra romanticism. The tale is already besotted; putting glorious sunsets behind shots of protagonists Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy seems like overkill.
Luckily, the schmaltz doesn't quite eclipse the book's critique of British class snobbery and male dominance. Lizzie has a quick wit that makes the initially stiff, solemn Darcy dizzy. She's also bold and opinionated. They do battle, but it's the clash of the mutually attracted. Misperceptions intervene to raise the stakes in a love that's inevitable.
Darcy is portrayed by Matthew Macfayden, whose smolder simply doesn't match that of Colin Firth in the P&P 1995 TV miniseries. On the same BBC program, Jennifer Ehle's Lizzie was wonderfully inscrutable. But Hollywood It-girl Keira Knightley goes for a heart-on-her-sleeve approach in this 135-minute adaptation, flashing toothy smiles and evoking a much more modern character.
A world away from the calculating Republican politician he plays on ABC's "Commander in Chief," Donald Sutherland appears as the Bennet clan's gentle father. He takes a backseat to his wife (a shrill Brenda Blethyn), who is obsessed with finding rich husbands for their five daughters. This goal puts every eligible bachelor in her crosshairs.
Although the sauciest child (Jena Malone) flirts her way into an ill-advised marriage with a military man, the rest of the brood experiences trouble in the early 19th-century dating game. Darcy's manipulative aunt (Dame Judi Dench) does everything in her power to denigrate the Bennets. Given that this is a family of modest means, matchmaking has its pitfalls in a high society blessed with fabulous country estates and posh parties.
Jane (Rosamund Pike), the sister closest to Lizzie, is a shy beauty who falls for a wealthy young man named Bingley (Simon Woods, a Conan O'Brien look-alike). But Darcy, his best friend, undermines the couple's plans.
Director Joe Wright has a talent for crowd scenes. With help from cinematographer Roman Osin, he choreographs the elegant balls with swirling complexity. The madcap Bennet household reverberates with giddy girls. But his handsome, busy production should have been a less sentimental journey.
The happy ending of Pride & Prejudice has little in common with another foreign film arriving at the Roxy this week: Paradise Now. During a recent sneak preview at the Key Sunday Cinema Club, the audience sat in stunned silence as final credits rolled for this acclaimed Arabic-language drama. Co-written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad, a Palestinian living in the Netherlands, the picture provides a harrowing look at the presumed psychology of suicide bombers.
In Nablus, Said (Kais Nashef) is a pensive guy with soulful eyes. His best friend and fellow mechanic Khaled (Ali Suliman) has a more carefree demeanor. It's shocking when a militant organization easily recruits these likeable folks to carry out a deadly mission in Tel Aviv, an act of revenge for previous Israeli attacks. They apparently agree out of a sense of destiny.
By that time, Said has become interested in Suha (Lubna Azabal), a woman who returns to the West Bank after self-exile in France to escape the mayhem of the Middle East. Resisting the occupation through participation in a human-rights campaign, she serves as the movie's conscience. "We have to turn it into a moral war," Suha says.
Despite her pleas for nonviolence and Said's own doubts, he continues to seek martyrdom with the more gung-ho Khaled. They undergo preparations for their assignment in the film's most riveting sequence, as each of them is videotaped reciting a farewell message from a secret hideout.
With a touch of gallows humor, Khaled's first impassioned delivery goes to waste when the camera malfunctions. On the second try, he notices that others in the room are eating sandwiches. This prompts him to add a piece of advice for his mother about the best buy available on a water filter, a moment of irreverence driven by tragic absurdity.
Abu-Assad has created a deft, intelligent, surprising thriller that explores the how and the why of people who strap on explosives to commit mass murder. Although not an easy thing to contemplate, the process is likely to take your breath away.