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The Portrait of a Lady [Blu-Ray]

Directed by Jane Campion

> > Dec 07 2012

The Portrait of a Lady [Blu-Ray] - Directed by Jane Campion
By Robert BellThough Henry James's novel, The Portrait of a Lady, is widely considered an existential text, insomuch as the titular "lady," Isabel (Nicole Kidman), asserts individual authenticity as her motivator and unspoken rationale for eventual martyrdom, Jane Campion's adaptation has more of a fatalistic trajectory and feel. It also isn't quite as concerned with the mirroring of New and Old World philosophies as the novel, implicitly suggesting that a life of privilege and excess is filled with corruption and manipulation, but not doting on it. Campion is more interested in the characterizations and application of personal ideals to real world inevitabilities within the text. Isabel's decision to reject proposals from the affluent Lord Warburton (Richard E. Grant) and pedestrian Caspar Goodwood (Viggo Mortensen) is an assertion of her will, which, while perpetually dissatisfied, channelling Schopenhauer, ultimately becomes more of a self-imposed misogyny, when filtered through Campion, to experience the world on her terms. Everyone around her — in particular, sickly cousin Ralph Touchett (Martin Donovan) — understands and respects her desires, but demonstrates an unspoken knowledge of worldly disappointments that they are unable to communicate to the determined Isabel. It's something she must experience herself, which she does when her uncle passes away, leaving her with a substantial fortune, much to the presumed jealousy of fellow American expatriate Madame Merle (Barbara Hershey). This power dynamic and the ultimate use of Machiavellian plotting to lead Isabel into a vortex of worldly horrors, as represented by callous sociopath Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich), who eventually woos and weds the young woman of means with motivations beyond her understanding, seems predetermined by gender expectations and the very nature of being, where competing egos and desires are complex and abundant. And because Jane Campion is focused on the nature of Isabel's inevitable punishment for rejecting the safety and limitations of an easy, ladylike life — something complicated by the unresolved manner in which her fate plays out — much of the quotidian, but key narrative elements are limited to passion mentions amidst the barbed, subtle and hyper-economic dialogue. As such, our appreciation of her gradual ambivalence towards Osmond — hating him for trapping her in an emotionally abusive marriage, yet still wanting to win his love — is limited to presumption based on their eventual blow-out over Isabel's potential visitation of her dying cousin in England. What is clear is Isabel's realization of self-imposed subjugation and punishment when her youthful experiences are eventually mirrored by those of her stepdaughter, Pansy (Valentina Cervi), who voices distain for the banality of safety and ease when presented with the option to marry Lord Warburton, as Isabel once was. Both women admit seeking danger, even unconsciously, as a need to simultaneously assert independence and self-loathing. In Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady, her women are plagued with the socially imposed need to punish themselves for acting on their desires, suggesting that their eventual acquiescence and martyrdom are simply fate. Included with the Blu-Ray is hour-long documentary Jane Campion and the Portrait of a Lady, which is far more intricate, candid and compelling than anything offered in the way of supplements in modern mainstream cinema. In detailing Shelley Winters's on-set histrionics and Malkovich's pseudo-patronizing and dismissive attitude towards Campion's very time-consuming vision — she's obsessed with composition and focus — we get a sense of the intensely complicated and volatile nature of the production. More interesting are the open discussions about people on-set hating each other and the amount of inappropriate behaviour allowed based on sheer time constraints and workplace stress. This "behind the scenes" supplement works quite effectively as a film on its own, much like the shocking and distressingly honest documentary The Humiliated, which documents Lars von Trier's tumultuous mental state and his unintentional emotional abuse of actresses on the set of The Idiots.
(Shout! Factory)
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