Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. United Kingdom/Canada/Australia, 2013. Latitude Productions, Lascaux Films, American Entertainment Investors. Screenplay by Gerald Di Pego. Cinematography by Ian Baker. Produced by Curtis Burch, Gerald Di Pego, Fred Schepisi. Music by Paul Grabowsky. Production Design by Patrizia von Brandenstein. Costume Design by Tish Monaghan. Film Editing by Peter Honess. Toronto International Film Festival 2013.
Clive Owen is an English teacher who loves multi-syllabic word contests but shirks responsibility in the classroom, rarely marking assignments on time and frequently coming to work drunk. Juliette Binoche plays a painter whose rheumatoid arthritis is slowly taking away her ability to work, arriving at the school with the established moniker of “The Icicle” because of her unfriendly personality. The two of them butt heads almost immediately, he insisting that images cannot convey the depth of human emotion that brilliant words can, while she tells him that an image is more powerful because it goes beyond the physical parameters of language. The school’s governors are concerned about his fitness to teach and are also considering canceling the poetry journal he edits because it costs too much money to produce, so he proposes a challenge to Binoche that will hopefully save him and his pet project. A public contest that pits words against images will see which form of communication is better, the results of which they will publish in the journal, which leads to a few weeks in which they must deal with the dramas of their students while figuring out a common ground between them, developing an attraction that is threatened by his self-destructive tendencies and her fear about her physical decline. Despite having two such lovely and dedicated actors giving sincere performances in the lead, this miserably executed film suffers from a complete confusion as to what tone it wants to take with its plot, setting up a Hepburn-Tracy battle of wills that is surrounded by cheap melodrama and drowning in endless cliches. The setting is lovely and the kids are all earnest, but a subplot involving a classroom bully feels as out of place as most of the film does, while the weak chemistry between the stars makes their sexual attraction come off as a gimmick to please studio executives.