F.I.L.M. of the Week (October 2, 2009)

2 10 2009

“Notes on a Scandal” is this week’s F.I.L.M (First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie).  The movie opened in 2006, and it barely received a wide release.  It didn’t exactly light the box office on fire, but the right people took notice and nominated it for 4 Oscars, including Best Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Cate Blanchett), and Best Actress (Judi Dench).

I watched “Notes on a Scandal” with very little knowledge of the plot, but little did I know that a shockingly provocative movie was awaiting me.  The movie revolves around the themes of passion, jealousy, and greed, but it uses pedophilia, lesbianism, and adultery to highlight them (yet another movie I recommend with discretion).  The script is practically immaculate, but the movie soars to great heights mostly because of its incredible performances.  Dench takes the lead and creates a character that you can really loathe, yet she infuses the crotchety old hag with enough warmth to make you feel the tiniest bit of sympathy.  Blanchett reminds us why she is one of the most respected actresses in Hollywood with an absolutely dynamite performance.

The movie will undoubtedly remind you of “Doubt,” but replace doubt with certainty.  Barbara Covett (Dench) catches her fellow teacher Sheba Hart (Blanchett) involved in a sexual act with one of her teenage students.  Rather than report the relationship, Barbara decides to befriend Sheba and help her.  Sheba reveals all to her colleague, and her deplorable rationale will assuredly lead you to hate her.  But as events continue to unfold, Barbara’s true motives begin to surface, exposing her to be practically The Joker with wrinkled skin.  Unfortunately, Sheba is so distraught that she falls right into Barbara’s web of deceit.  But as the film draws to a conclusion, we are never sure who is the hero or villain, much less who is doing the right thing.

“Notes on a Scandal” is a movie that will remind you of Hollywood’s dearth of thought-provoking films.  Guaranteed to get your mind racing and your heart pumping, it provides an intimate portrait of emotions that we so often try to hide.  At a slim 92 minutes, it is a good rental if you want to watch a movie that you can still be pondering next week.



5 responses

3 10 2009
James D.

It is a great little suspense film with excellent performances. I knew very little going in as well, and felt rewarded. Great write-up.

5 10 2009

Great review of a great film, Marshall. One thing that I liked about “Notes on a Scandal” was the structural shift — only a few reviewers seemed to notice it, but we begin with a movie where Barbara (Dame Judi Dench) is the narrator and seems to be in total control. Then somewhere around the midpoint or shortly thereafter there’s less narration and less control. I can’t help but see this as a deliberate shift.

Then again, I was an English major. I read too much into Yellow Page ads.

5 10 2009

I did notice that, but I wrote this post somewhat hurriedly before I left to go to my school’s homecoming game.

I liked how they made the more upright woman ambiguous throughout the movie…something I felt was somewhat betrayed by taking a clearly implicit stance at the end of the movie. By showing Barbara using her sinister motives on some other unsuspecting young woman, clearly the filmmakers are pointing at her as the villain. It’s just like how I felt about “District 9” … it’s absolutely fine to leave the audience guessing at the end.

No worries on being overly analytical. I worked my way through a shot-by-shot analysis of “The Graduate” once. And I’m looking into being a Critical Studies major in college, A.K.A. finding hidden messages in media.

11 05 2010
Frank Mengarelli

Weird. That was my major and have done a shot-by-shot analysis of “The Graduate”.


If not, disregard.

11 05 2010

I’m not sure, I found it on the Internet. Pretty sure it was on a site connected with TCM or something…

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