Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. Morocco/USA, 2015. Benaroya Pictures, H Films, Raslan Company of America. Screenplay by Werner Herzog. Cinematography by Peter Zeitlinger. Produced by Michael Benaroya, Cassian Elwes, Nick N. Raslan. Music by Klaus Badelt. Production Design by Ulrich Bergfelder. Costume Design by Michele Clapton. Film Editing by Joe Bini.
Bored of life in the quiet English countryside, Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman) heads to the middle east at the turn of the century to turn the entire Arab world on its ear, a pre-cursor to T.E. Lawrence (with whom she crossed paths on more than one occasion, portrayed here by a game Robert Pattinson). Bell eventually made her place in history when her role as British cultural attache lead to her influence over the formation of nation states in the wake of the Ottoman Empire’s disintegration. Werner Herzog makes a biopic about her whose purpose is difficult to understand, especially as many of the things it focuses on are less interesting than the things it leaves out. Bell’s early days in Tehran and love affair with a sorely miscast James Franco feel like they’re a parody of period movies before she moves into the vastness of a desert, filmed at levels of beauty well worthy of David Lean, where the film adopts a more relaxed and natural tone; so relaxed, in fact, that it rarely has any conflict, concerned mainly with watching this fascinating woman wander from one group of people to another, undeterred by warnings (or threats, many from her own military) and led primarily by her curiousity and her passion for the places that take her far away from the constricting world she comes from. Perhaps we are meant to get to know the origins of her life before she did the things she’s famous for (she more or less determined the current borders of Iraq and Jordan) but the information in the concluding title cards feels like it is the movie that should have been made and not what we just spent two hours trying to decipher. True to her indomitable talent, Kidman fares well in the lead role, never fighting Herzog’s inability to put the pieces together but gliding through the film with all the subtle grace that makes her so perfect for this kind of role, while Damien Lewis has a few memorable moments as her second doomed love affair.