I’m falling a little behind on these write-ups but number 5 for 52 Films by Women was Miss Julie directed by Liv Ullmann. Miss Julie, based on the play by August Strindberg, takes place over the course of one night (Midsummer Night’s Eve), and has only three characters: the titular Miss Julie played by Jessica Chastain; John played by Colin Farrell and Kathleen played by Samantha Morton. This adaptation sees the story set in Ireland, rather than Sweden.
Class, power and social structures (and how they are changing) are explored through the emotional monologues of the three characters. The most interesting aspect is undoubtedly the raw and intense acting, and I think it will be too ‘slow’ for anyone not invested in that.
Movies like this can be hit or miss for me, but I found Miss Julie engaging because of the excellent performances from Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell and especially Jessica Chastain. It was emotionally draining just to watch Chastain’s performance – I can’t imagine what the experience would’ve been like for her, bringing up all that turmoil and agony. Even at the beginning when there is an almost playfulness (maybe) to her actions, her pain is quick to surface in between when we see tears come to her eyes.
I know pretty much nothing about the play (except what I’ve now read on Wikipedia), but that’s hardly surprising given my knowledge of theatre is limited to the musical variety. It does still have much of the feel of a stage play, rather than being cinematic, but that doesn’t bother me (mostly because of the performances, but also because that never bothers me much). I’ve seen it described as claustrophobic but it didn’t feel that way to me.
The first thing that struck me, though, was the way it looked. The cinematography is quite static in contrast to the tumultuous emotions expressed by the characters. There are a lot of airy, beautifully lit shots. It’s just gorgeous to look at in general. I particularly liked when there was a mixture of colours on the actors’ faces – the blue of natural light from outside, mixed with the yellow of candlelight. You can see this in the photo above.
The quality of light in this film just kills me. It’s so clear. And it really does give the feeling of an airy house with huge windows letting in all that gorgeous natural light.
It may sound cliched and a little obvious as it’s said about many redheads, but there is something of a Pre-Raphaelite model about Chastain. That last shot of her definitely put me in mind of Millais’ Ophelia.
It’s quite different from most period dramas I’ve seen; it’s a heavy film and I did need some breaks but it’s definitely worth watching.
The picture below contains a spoiler for the ending but the play was written over 100 years ago, so I’m including it. I wanted to show what I meant about the painting comparison.
Bottom: Ophelia, John Everett Millais, 1851-1852, oil on canvas