Friday, December 5, 2014

Movie with Abe: Miss Julie

Miss Julie
Directed by Liv Ullmann
Released December 5, 2014

Theatre and film are separate arts for a number of reasons. One has to do strictly with technology, that recording a play was not possible early in history, and that only relatively recently has this new medium existed that allows for a performance to be played on the big screen and preserved forever. The stage is still popular, however, and theatregoers often expect a smaller cast with fewer set pieces than they might if they went to see a movie. There’s a certain kind of story that works perfectly on stage but doesn’t always translate to the big screen. “Miss Julie,” a landmark achievement when it was written in 1888, is one such story.

This cinematic adaptation finds valet John (Colin Farrell) and cook Kathleen (Samantha Morton) conversing in the kitchen of the baron’s estate one midsummer night. The main topic of conversation is the baron’s daughter, Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain), who is hard to control when her father is around and near impossible to deal with when he is gone. As he is away for the night, Miss Julie descends to the kitchen, intent on having herself an enjoyable and manipulative night, treating John and Kathleen like chess pieces in her favorite game. Despite the romance that the two servants already have, Miss Julie cuts in and does what she can to convince John to set his sights on her.

A considerable amount of time in this overlong drama, which runs two hours and nine minutes, is spent in the kitchen, first leading up to Miss Julie’s arrival and then as she toys with John while banishing Kathleen to her room so that she won’t get in the way. It’s not a large space, but one suitable for the behavior that Miss Julie has chosen. The setting has a layered meaning, as John has access to everything that he uses as part of his job for the baron, as well as those things which he should not touch, especially without his employer there to tell him to do so. The game they play is significant but ultimately tiresome, and it’s hard to root for anything other than an immediate resolution after long. Chastain, Farrell, and Morton are talented actors but their skills are better used elsewhere. For devotees of the play and its history, this might prove a satisfying experience, but for those with no previous knowledge of or connection to it, it’s hopelessly uninteresting.


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