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Henry & June [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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Writer Henry Miller, wife June and writer Anais Nin get kinky in 1930s Paris. Directed by Philip Kaufman.
Anaïs Nin (Maria de Medeiros) is a young woman in 1930s Paris whose husband is slowly defecting from art to working in a bank, leaving her very bored. When the then-unpublished Brooklyn writer Henry Miller (Fred Ward) enters her life, she embarks on a journey of seduction and sexual exploration that eventually leads from the writer to his wife, June (Uma Thurman), who finances her husband's life in Paris so he may praise her beauty in his writing. Unhappy with her husband's writing and her lovers' affair, June enters a jealous rage, forcing Henry into suffering-artist mode and Nin back to her husband. Despite having one of the more erotic scenes of the 1990s, between Nin and June, the film does not live up to its subject, largely due to a mediocre screenplay and flawed direction. The strength of the original material and Medeiros' strong performance make it worth viewing. -- James McGrath, Amazon.com --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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Technically, the film's a well made, polished production. The central performances are good with the exception of Richard E. Grant playing Hugo, Anais Nin's husband. He's got such a distinctive acting style that, unless well cast, he stands out like a sore thingey. Which is the case here.
The story centres upon the relationship between Nin, Miller and Miller's wife June played with admirable commitment by Maria de Medeiros, Fred Ward Uma Thurman respectively. It's basically seen from Nin's perspective as she explores her sexuality by embarking a bi-sexual relationship with the Millers. By the end of the film she seems to believe she has matured into womanhood.
Trouble is, I couldn't give a damn. She's a sexy enough bint all right, but I wasn't smitten by her character. Or her desire.
More engaging I thought, was the notion that the two writers were basically exploiting the vamp June as a life experience upon which to draw as artistic material for their novels. But that wasn't examined in anything other than superficial terms.The voyeuristic theme is placed centre-stage, the film being chocked with mirror images, projections, masques and other references suggesting voyeurism, role-playing and doubling. Unfortunately, as cinematic voyeur, at no point could I engage empathetically with either of the writers. In fact, I couldn't get involved enough in their screen dramas to care for any of these characters.
As for erotic content --well I guess that's highly subjective but this is certainly no masterpiece (as claimed on the packaging). There's insufficient depth or subtlety to it. We follow the sensuality-obsessed characters in a delirious stream of episodic erotic encounters the tone of which goes for lush vampy passion (approximating the popular mode of the period) but which comes-off more often than not as hammy theatricals. Laden with some pretty crap symbolism (a pot boils over at a climactic moment, a bread roll enters a husband's mouth as his wife gets screwed upstairs by his pal etc.) and many a pretentious line of dialogue.
Basically what we have here is a commercial cinematic exercise in period style; a romantic envisioning of bohemian Paris of the 30's jazzed-up with lashings of arty erotica. It's a very attractive milieu to focus upon and, if done well, a sure-fire draw for me, certainly. But the approach here lays every coffee-table book cliche on us. Even Brassai makes an appearance. The visuals are a lush stream of quotations from cinema, photography and modern literature as if Kaufman's drunk on research. Aesthetically, it might be a mall-girl's dream, but as a seriously ambitious art film celebrating the realm of the senses (which this plainly is), it's rather over-egged.
If you want a genuinely engrossing erotic charge in recent mainstream cinema, my pick for a decent yardstick by which to judge this attempt would be Fur, Director Steven Shainberg's masterly film homage to photographer Diane Arbus, superbly written by Erin Cressida Wilson. That, and Shainberg's earlier film Secretary, exemplify truly engrossing eroticism possible in film storytelling.
By comparison, the onscreen antics of Henry and June amount to shallow stylistic posturing with nothing much to say. Not terrible, but too low a spark to ignite desire.
The 'June' in the title was Henry's somewhat estranged wife who (unfortunately for the story) arrives midstory and becomes a perpetual distraction for all, but seems more interested in Anais than in her husband Henry,who has become for her a controllable bore whose arrogant alpha male charms no longer work on her, having seen underneath the surface of the man. Nin is equally tied to, but bored of, her own husband, and this is the stage on which everything else revolves around. The world created by Kaufmann hints at the tastes and aromas of 1930's Paris but never quite gets the full flavour of it or the feeling of the dirt of the streets under its fignernails.It's too solid when it needed to be more dreamy and slightly out of focus and really cries out for more random fragments of life to paint a picture from those fragments,in the way that Miller does in his book 'Tropic of Cancer.'
Miller and Nin suffer here from being under-revealed by the screenplay and the best way to have improved this was through their writing, which cannot be contested. This is done slightly through Nin's periodic voice-over but i wish more of Miller's poetic side could have been read aloud onto the screen and the images recreated as the voice spoke.
I got used to Fred West as Miller, and he does get across the rawness of that lust for life, and Maria de M playing Nin also gets my vote as a presence of erotic naive beauty discovering her identity through pleasure.I wouldnt say it is an erotic classic though, it is more obsessive and coarse, so it sinks rather than soars.
I liked fragments of this film as I do the books, but never feel satisfied with the entire whole. I liked Miller at his typewriter struggling, i liked him retreating to the whore houses, it was all very evocative, but other parts failed to meet him at that level.I can't criticise Uma Thurman as she may well have nailed the mystery of June.I have no idea.
Unfortunately many scenes are spoilt by the imbecilic wooden non-entity that is Richard E Grant. What a useless conceited bore he is, with his catty gossiping book squealing on all his Hollywood acquaintances, and unfortunately his acting doesn't redeem him from that in this film. He ruins every scene he is in, just as he did in Coppola's Dracula.If i had been forced to hear him say "pussywillow" in his effeminate whine one more time i think i would have calmly removed the dvd and snapped it into pieces. But if you can ignore his feeble presence and allow those moments of splendour to carry you a bit further into reveries of your own, this might well work for you on some levels.
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