Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Notes on a Scandal: Trust No One

Notes on a Scandal has been in release long enough, and won enough awards, for me to avoid doing a full-court press review. But I finally saw it (at the Arclight, not via one of the screeners that are ubiquitous at this time of year) and just want to say: Wow.

Judi Dench, uglied up as a repressed busybody-and-then-some of a teacher at a comprehensive (what we would call a public school) in Islington, northish London, is terrifyingly good. She's a totally self-delusional creature. Cate Blanchett, as an upper-middle-class Bohemienne art teacher, demonstrates again her essential bravery as an actress, throwing herself into a part in which she not-so-sympathetically has an affair with a 15 year-old who is younger than her teenaged daughter.

A big chunk of the subtext here is class: Judi Dench's Barbara is clearly a petite bourgeoise who has worked her way up to her basement flat and longtime teaching position. She's resistant, as one would imagine, to the airy charms of Blanchett's character, Sheba, but at the same time attracted by her upper-middle-class trappings: a row house, and a vacation home in the Dordogne (and the different way Blanchett and Dench pronounce that tricky French word is a key to their class differences). Dench envies Blanchett's entitlements, and in a way wants to prove to Blanchett how unnecessary they are to her; the tough life that Dench has set out for herself is much better. Class envy, repressed lust: Notes on a Scandal has it all.

What it also has is a very impressive Philip Glass score that at times overwhelms the action on screen. Glass' music is relentless and, as it tells a story all by itself, the score has trouble standing aside to let the tale unfold through visuals. Much as I like Glass' work, I'm not sure it functions fabulously here.

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