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‘Oscar And Lucinda’ Parallels Book Without Capturing Its Meaning

Fri., March 27, 1998

Having read the novel, “Oscar and Lucinda,” I can’t imagine what audiences are going to make of the movie.

Writer Laura Jones and director Gillian Anderson have done a fine job of depicting all the key scenes in the book, which is about two 19th-century dreamers who make an all-or-nothing bet about transporting a glass church to the wilds of Australia (oh, that tired plot again!). “Oscar and Lucinda” looks beautiful, it has a gorgeous musical score by Thomas Newman, and the actors - Ralph Fiennes as awkward, skittish Oscar and Cate Blanchett as confident, willful Lucinda - are well-cast. Even so, the movie doesn’t work.

It’s a movie of excellent scenes that don’t fit together. The problem may be that the book is too deeply rooted in the kind of symbols and metaphor that work on the page but are cumbersome on screen, but the movie glosses over many incidents before we know what’s happening, and it never supplies the context that would help us figure out what one scene has to do with the next.

It’s as if they’ve faithfully recorded all the most important moments without capturing what any of them mean. As a result, the motivations of the characters - particularly the supporting characters - are mystifying (the story is about the evils of colonialism and, although that theme is there in the movie, it’s beautifully hidden).

Anderson is clearly crazy about the two main characters, and she makes sure they emerge as the lovable, maddening eccentrics they must be. Fiennes might seem too dreamy and chiseled to play a frightened-of-his-shadow goofball, but he’s terrific. And Blanchett is a real discovery - with her Judy Davis-like looks and her creamy, enthusiastic voice, she expertly captures the spirit of a woman who is so sure of her dreams that she’s willing to bet everything on them.

xxxx “Oscar and Lucinda” Location: Lincoln Heights Cinema Art Credits: Directed by Gillian Anderson; starring Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett Running time: 2:11 Rating: R


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