It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Sally Potter makes movies about women who use art and artifice to escape from the roles society has assigned them. "Orlando" (1993) is about a character who lives for four centuries, first as a man, then as a woman. "The Tango Lesson" (1997) is about a British film director (Potter herself) who becomes a tango dancer. Now here is "The Man Who Cried," about a little Jewish girl from Russia who becomes a little British girl and then a Parisian dancing girl, and then a wartime refugee, and finally, once again, her father's daughter.
This is an amazingly ambitious movie, not so much because of the time and space it covers (a lot), but because Potter trusts us to follow her heroine through one damn thing after another. There is a moment when Suzie is on a bicycle, chasing Gypsy horsemen through the streets of Paris, and I thought: Yes, of course, realism at last--a woman in that situation would use a bicycle to chase a man on a horse. By the time a ship is torpedoed near the end of the film, we're reflecting that most movies are too timid to offend the gods of plausibility.
Potter puts her money where her mouth is. If she personally, in her 40s, can go to Argentina and become a tango dancer, then we can't complain about anything that happens to Suzie. Not that we'd want to. The story begins in Russia in 1927, when the girl's father determines to move the family to America. The girl and her father are separated, the girl is mislabeled by adults, and ends up being adopted by a well-meaning but grim British couple. When she sees Gypsies in the lanes of Britain, she is reminded of her own Jewish community in Russia.
Britain cannot hold a spirit like this. In Paris, Suzie is taken under the arm of a gold-digging showgirl named Lola (Cate Blanchett), who wants to marry well, and has her eyes on a famous opera singer named Dante (John Turturro). Suzie meanwhile falls for Cesar (Johnny Depp), the Gypsy on the white horse, and finds that he is a ride-on extra in Dante's current production. As the clouds of World War II gather, Dante reveals himself as a supporter of Mussolini and a hater of Gypsies and Jews, and Lola's appetite begins to fade.
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