Films

Guns and roses

One movie tackles war, the other, motherhood

Brian D. Johnson November 29 1999
Films

Guns and roses

One movie tackles war, the other, motherhood

Brian D. Johnson November 29 1999

Guns and roses

Films

One movie tackles war, the other, motherhood

Brian D. Johnson

Ride with the Devil

Directed by Ang Lee

Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who observed the mores of Jane Austens England in Sense and Sensibility and of ’70s suburbia in The Ice Storm, nowcasts his discerning eye on the backwoods etiquette of the American Civil War. Based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel Woe to Live On (1987),

Ride with the Devil is about a band of guerrillas known as the Bushwhackers, young men fighting for the South along the Kansas-Missouri border, far from the official troops on the front lines. It is an intimate epic that combines volleys of explosive action with unhurried stretches of artfully archaic dialogue. Part war movie, part western and part minuet of southern manners, Ride with the Devil offers a whole new spin on men with guns on horseback.

Tobey Maguire ( The Ice Storm) stars as Jake, the son of German immigrants who joins the Bushwhackers with his friend Jack Bull (Skeet Ulrich), the son of a plantation owner. Their cohorts include a genteel commander (James Caviezel), a borderline psychotic (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and an ex-slave (Jeffrey Wright) strangely loyal to the Confederate cause. The pop singer Jewel makes a credible screen debut as Sue Lee, a young widow who brings a magnolia glow to the men in their hillside dugout.

Ride with the Devil is long, and between eruptions of violence the pace is

luxuriously slow. But the picture casts a spell. Ang Lee evokes the awkward politesse of a war in which both sides stop shooting to let the womenfolk flee to safety. Screenwriter James Schamus brings an Old English cadence to the dialogues rustic formality. And at the head of a charismatic cast, Maguire projects a disarming innocence.

As for Ang Lee, he flirts with western

clichés—from equestrian stunts to frontier surgery (“You watch out green rot don’t get started on him!”). But on the whole, Ride with the Devil takes an unbeaten path, dramatizing the Civil War with uncommon civility.

All About My Mother

Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Director Pedro Almodovar dedicates this film to his mother—and “to all actresses who have played actresses, to all women who act, to men who act and become women, to all the people who want to be mothers.” All About My Mother is a carnival of misplaced maternal instincts. The characters include: a

grieving mother, a father with breasts, a transsexual hooker, an actress matriarch, her lesbian lover and a pregnant nun. The title alludes to All About Eve-, the premise is borrowed from John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, starring Gena Rowlands; and the hectic story revolves around a Barcelona stage production ofA Streetcar Named Desire.

Yet somehow it is all feels uncluttered and seamless. Almodovars 13th feature shows the flamboyant Spanish director in top form. As usual, every frame is deliciously composed with an eye to colour. Every shirt, every wall, every stick of furniture looks good enough to eat. And as Almodovar races the plot from one shameless coincidence to another, his irreverent wit cools the melodrama like a steady stream of pure oxygen—right from the first gag showing a TV aerobics class of babies in diapers.

With All About My Mother, Almodovar displays a new maturity. Since his 1987 breakthrough, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, his crayon colours and hairpin plot twists have become less gratuitous. And the glibness is tempered by compassion. Cecilia Roth anchors the drama with a beautifully moving performance as Manuela, who loses her teenage son early in the story: he is killed by a car while chasing an actress for an autograph. She spends the movie mothering everyone in sight— a battered transsexual (Antonia San Juan), a demanding stage star (Marisa Paredes) and a knocked-up nun (Penélope Cruz).

In a show-stopping monologue, the transsexual catalogues her cosmetic surgery. “It cost me a lot to be authentic,” she says. “A woman is more authentic the more she looks like what she has dreamed herself to be.” Likewise, All About My Mother is a work of passionate artifice. A treat not to be missed. Ci]