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The Dead [DVD]
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John Huston's final film, an adaptation of a James Joyce novella, takes place at Christmas in turn-of-the-century Dublin. To mark the occasion, two spinsters (Helena Carroll and Cathleen Delany) throw a party, inviting, amongst others, their nephew Gabriel (Donal McCann) and his wife Gretta (Anjelica Huston). During the course of the evening, a haunting rendition of an Irish lament has an overwhelming effect on Gretta, who is moved to remember a long-suppressed romance in her earlier years.
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If you like action movies, give this a miss. If you want to be transported to another time, another life, here's your film
A gift from the universe.
Taking as its central point an annual party given by Miss Kate and Miss Julia, two elderly Dubliners, this is a gentle drama of small folk, their lives and loves, their triumphs and tragedies.
No incident in the film changes the world, but the people in it are those who are for all time, and anyone viewing 'The Dead' cannot fail to be moved by it.
(A recent reviewer on the radio regretted that she had first seen the film before she was old enough fully to appreciate it. Older and wiser now, she was in raptures over the recent re-release.)
This minimalist classic, similar in many ways to my own personal favourite, 'Babette's Feast', must surely rank high in the list of movie greats.
It's wonderfully shot, sort of the missing link between Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975) and Scorsese's The Age of Innocence (1993) in terms of lighting and the way it captures the sisters party on twelth night in Dublin, 1904. The cast are excellent, from leads Donal McCann (as Gabriel) and Anjelica Huston (as Greta) & such actors as Colm Meaney, Rachel Dowling & Donal Donnelly. The film itself is basically a meal set on Twelth night by hosts the Markham sisters and their niece- we cut between various characters, & the film moves from dancing to poetry to singing to the meal itself; there are also moments of great comedy, particularly centred around drunken Frank. The film, like its literary source, makes reference to Irish politics (eg West Briton, Republican union meetings, Irish traditions, Parnell) & art- notably opera, which features in a brilliant scene focused on Anjelica Huston. It's a minor key film, no major melodrama and just under 80 minutes in duration, but the end- where Greta tells Gabriel about her teenage paramour who died young (reminding me of the traditional Irish song 'I am Stretched On Your Grave')& how Gabriel didn't really know his wife. Dublin is wonderfully captured under a rain of snow & the final scenes, when Gabriel- on a night of celebration and union, notes that death is looming & we see images surrounding Dublin and snow, of graveyards, and of Aunt Julia's future death- moves into the poetic- the mise-en-scene offering an image for every one of Joyce's transcendental lines.
The Dead is an excellent adaptation of Joyce's short story- far from the travesty that was the film of Joyce's Ulysses; of course, it should lead you to the source short story (if unfamiliar). I had read Dubliners several times before seeing this & think this is a sterling adaptation of a great literary work, to rank alongside such films as Swann in Love, The Wings of the Dove, Tess, The Portrait of a Lady & A Room With a View. Sometimes work in a minor key can be just as profound as a 'big film' like Schindler's List or whatever. The Dead is just that & comes highly recommended- thanks to the nice person who bought it for me from my wish list!
The acting was perfect, the lighting brought out the period settings and the direction was hugely sympathetic, leaving an overwhelming impression of bitter-sweetness.
It's a film I will come back to time and again and a fine valedictory monument to John Huston's genius.
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