t has been said that most great twentieth century novels include scenes in a hotel, a symptom of the vast uprooting that has occurred in the last century: James Ivory begins Quartet with a montage of the hotels of Montparnasse, a quiet prelude before our introduction to the violently lost souls who inhabit them.
Adapted from the 1928 autobiographical novel by Jean Rhys, Quartet is the story of a love quadrangle between a complicated young West Indian woman named Marya (played by Isabelle Adjani), her husband Stefan (Anthony Higgins), a manipulative English art patron named Heidler (Alan Bates), and his painter wife Lois (Maggie Smith). The film is set in the Golden Age of Paris, Hemingway's "moveable feast" of cafe culture and extravagant nightlife, glitter and literati: yet underneath is the outline of something sinister beneath the polished brasses and brasseries.
When Marya's husband is put in a Paris prison on charges of selling stolen art works, she is left indigent and is taken in by Heidler and his wife: the predatory Englishman (whose character Rhys bases on the novelist Ford Madox Ford) is quick to take advantage of the new living arrangement, and Marya finds herself in a stranglehold between husband and wife. Lovers alternately gravitate toward and are repelled by each other, now professing their love, now confessing their brutal indifference -- all the while keeping up appearances. The film explores the vast territory between the "nice" and the "good," between outward refinement and inner darkness: after one violent episode, Lois asks Marya not to speak of it to the Paris crowd. "Is that all you're worried about?" demands an outraged Marya. "Yes," Lois replies with icy candor, "as a matter of fact."
Adjani won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her performances in Quartet: her Marya is a volatile compound of French schoolgirl and scorned mistress, veering between tremulous joy and hysterical outburst. Smith shines in one of her most memorable roles: she imbues Lois with a Katherine-of-Aragon impotent rage, as humiliated as she is powerless in the face of her husband's choices. Her interactions with Bates are scenes from a marriage that has moved from disillusionment to pale acceptance.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and James Ivory's screenplay uses Rhys's novel as a foundation from which it constructs a world that is both true to the novel and distinctive in its own right, painting a society that has lost its inhibitions and inadvertently lost its soul. We are taken to mirrored cafes, then move through the looking glass: Marya, in one scene, is offered a job as a model and then finds herself in a sadomasochistic pornographer's studio. The film, as photographed by Pierre Lhomme, creates thoroughly cinematic moments that Rhy's novel could not have attempted: in one of the Ivory's most memorable scenes, a black American chanteuse (extraordinarily played by Armelia McQueen) entertains Parisian patrons with a big and brassy jazz song, neither subtle nor elegant. Ivory keeps the camera on the singer's act: there is something in her unguarded smile that makes the danger beneath Montparnasse manners seem more acute.
Based on the 1910 novel, Howards End is a tour-de-force portrayal of E.M. Forster's masterpiece about a society in transition. The film was named Best Picture of 1992 by the National Board of Review, received nine Academy Award nominations, including that of Best Picture, and was one of the most critically acclaimed pictures of the 90s.
The free-spirited, free-thinking Schlegel sisters, Margaret (played by Emma Thompson, who received an Academy Award for her performance) and Helen (played by Helena Bonham Carter), are swept into a relationship with the Wilcoxes, a wealthy conservative English trading family; and the Basts, a couple near the lowest tier of the Edwardian class system. In an ever deepening palimpsest of relationships and obligations, Margaret must reconcile her irrepressible, independent spirit with her desire for companionship, and Helen must come to terms with her sister's choices and her unexpected passion for a match that, seemingly, should never be.
In a luminous, Oscar-nominated performance, Vanessa Redgrave is Mrs. Wilcox, a matriarch holding fast to a vanishing, remembered England of her childhood at the country house, Howards End. Her husband, Henry Wilcox (played by Anthony Hopkins), is an unyielding traditionalist who must face his own past and the changing world around him. Samuel West brings an assured sensitivity to Leonard Bast, whose aspirations above his class are inspired, and ultimately, rebuked.
Shot on location in England -- from the Hertfordshire countryside to the tenements of London's East End - Howards End won an Art Direction Academy Award for Luciana Arrighi's re-creation of the world known to Forster and his contemporaries. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala received her second Academy Award for her screenplay adaptation, which captures both the quick wit of Bloomsbury parlors and the quiet interiority of Forster's novel.
Ivory's unforgettable translation of Forster's themes into striking images (Mrs. Wilcox's lyrical walk around the house of her childhood; Leonard Bast's sun-drenched fantasies at his insurance clerk's desk), and the performances of an impeccable English cast make Howards End one of the Merchant Ivory team's most moving and perfectly realized films.
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