A nutty fairy tale about a displaced Jewish girl who must find her place in a hostile and often surreal world. 1927, rural Russia: Little Fegele (Claudia Lander-Duke) adores her father (Oleg Yankovskiy), a cantor, and is bereft when he leaves their small town to find his fortune in America. Soon after, Fegele's grandmother hears rumors of an impending pogrom...read more
A nutty fairy tale about a displaced Jewish girl who must find her place in a hostile and often surreal world. 1927, rural Russia: Little Fegele (Claudia Lander-Duke) adores her father (Oleg Yankovskiy), a cantor, and is bereft when he leaves their small town to find his fortune in America. Soon after, Fegele's grandmother hears rumors of an impending pogrom and tries to send the child to join her father. Instead, Fegele winds up alone in England, where her name is changed to Suzie. Taken in by a foster family, the withdrawn child scarcely speaks but communicates through her lovely singing voice. Years pass, and the adult Suzie (Christina Ricci) still burns with the desire to find her father in America, to which end she joins a traveling cabaret troupe. That takes her to Paris, where she meets flamboyant Russian showgirl Lola (Cate Blanchett), also an expatriate. The worldly Lola, who cultivates a flighty image but lives by the practical motto "Never look back; always go forward," takes Suzie under her wing, finding her a job at the opera and sharing tips for getting ahead. Lola sets her sights on the opera's self-centered Italian star, Dante (John Turturro), while Suzie falls for a Romany horse trainer named Cesar (Johnny Depp). Suzie feels a deep kinship with the perpetually homeless gypsies, but when Paris falls to the Nazis she's forced again to flee. It's astonishing to watch English filmmaker Sally Potter suggest lavish production values with impoverished means. Her WWII saga, which suggests the German occupation of Paris with little more than the amplified sound of marching feet, and the destruction of a luxury liner with an explosion in the ship's swimming pool, stands in stark contrast to the absurdly over-budgeted spectacle of PEARL HARBOR, which opened in the US on the same day. Potter's self-conscious (but not in the least bit ironic) reimagining of classic wartime melodramas is undermined by her awkward script, which is weighted down by its conspicuously big ideas. But the actors (most playing against their own nationalities) are uniformly willing to give the material everything they've got. Ricci brings her trademark gravity to the wary Suzie, but Blanchett's role is the dazzler: Rolling her eyes, shrugging her shoulders and flinging her long limbs about insouciantly, she's the soul of studiously artificial glamour, whether shimmying in a trashy revue or bewitching an unwary suitor.
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