Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
"Bee Season" involves one of those crazy families that cluster around universities: An intellectual husband who is clueless about human emotions, a wife who married him because she was afraid to be loved and he didn't know how to, a son who rebels by being more like his father than his father is, and a daughter who retreats into secret survival strategies. There are many movies about families sharing problems; in this one the members are isolated by them. They meet mostly at meals, which the father cooks and serves with a frightening intensity.
Like many families without centers, this one finds obsessions to focus on. Saul Naumann (Richard Gere) is a professor at Berkeley, specializing in Jewish theology and the Kabbalah. His wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche), emotionally wounded by the early loss of her own parents, slips into the homes of strangers to steal small glittering things. Their teenage son Aaron (Max Minghella) watches his father intimidate students with icy theological superiority, and does the one thing best calculated to enrage him; he joins the Hare Krishnas. Their daughter Eliza (Flora Cross), who is about 12, seems to be trying to pass as unobserved and ordinary, but her inner life has a fierce complexity.
The father teaches Judaism and follows its forms, but his spiritual life is academic, not mystical. What no one in the family perceives is that Eliza is a genuine mystic, for whom the Kabbalah is not a theory but a reality. One of the things that Kabbalah believes is that words not only reflect reality, but in a sense create it. God and the name of God are in this way the same thing.
How could this association enter into the life of a 12-year-old in a practical way? Eliza finds out when she enters a spelling bee. Because she exists in the same world with words, because words create her world, she doesn't need to "know" how to spell a word. It needs merely to be evoked, and it materializes in a kind of vision: "I see the words." Although this gift gets her into the national finals, "Bee Season" is not a movie about spelling bees. It is a movie about a spiritual choice that calls everyone's bluff; it involves the sort of refusal and rebellion seen in that half-forgotten masterpiece, "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner" (1962).