Dedicated to his father, the director moves away from his favorite subject (the mafia) to make a story in the 19th century, centered on a love triangle, in a society of narrow morals. The result can be very solemn for some tastes but it is worth that and more for the cast and the vintage setting.
A gorgeous period piece from director Martin Scorsese, The Age of Innocence may be achingly slow, but it is equally gorgeous. Thoroughly Scorsese, the film is brilliantly captured from the cinematography to the staging with ambitious camera movements, transitions, and techniques utilized throughout. Matching the beautiful camera work, the film's plot is elegant and its dialogue is structured and stiff, perfect for the society portrayed. Set in the 1870s, the film is about a man named Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis). Awaiting marriage to May Welland (Winona Ryder), he becomes infatuated with the Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), who recently returned to New York society after time in Europe with her now-estranged husband, the Count. Now caught between what he should do and what he wants to do, Newland must make a decision that will have ramifications for centuries. Elegant, engaging, and gorgeous, The Age of Innocence may be too stiff for some, but for those willing to go along with it, it is a brilliant take down of New York society.
With an elegant, romantic, and truly rapturous score accenting the film, The Age of Innocence was always destined to be gorgeous. The score by Elmer Bernstein is tremendous and often takes center stage in this film with so many different highlights. Paired up with the tremendous score is the brilliant production design. Capturing the prim nature of the society, the buildings from the exterior and in the interior are dressed to the nines. Scenes of snow falling in the city only further highlight the beauty of the film's production design and the emotional coldness of its characters and the society in which they live. While the buildings are gorgeously crafted, they are hardly lively and instead represent the same structured and stiff nature of the society itself. The costume design, also beautiful, similarly communicates this rigidity. With corsets and detailed dresses that make statements on their own, this society is one that constantly demands its participants be "on". If a person is unable or unwilling to perform for society's eyes, they will not be accepted into the society. The terrific costume design highlights this with every woman dressed up for a ball throughout and the men all wearing suits that exceed their "Sunday best". Yet, the film is defined in small touches. For example, a windy day where all the men walk the streets and hold their bowler hats as they do so, for fear of it flying off due to the wind. The film is bolstered by small, detailed moments such as this and it it something that is found in the score, the production design, and the costume design.
In terms of the film's camera work, it is wholly unique. Naturally, there are eye candy shots in the cinematography of old New York, the homes of the people, and a gorgeous aerial shot that is quintessential Scorsese during the opening ball sequence. Shots set against the shoreline of Countess Olenska staring at the ocean with everything **** in an orange hue also stands as a true series of highlights, whether it be with the sun setting behind the lighthouse, a boat, or Countess Olenska. Yet, again, the film has some small touches that make its camera work truly stand out. Early in the film, it is marked by a sort of symmetry to the shots. The staging of people, candles, or paintings, highlight this symmetry that is not necessarily continued throughout, but is definitely worth mentioning and eye catching. What makes this camera work unique is Scorsese's usage of lighting and the frame. For example, a sequence with Countess Olenska and Newland at the theatre, already in the throws of subtle courting, Scorsese uses a truly odd technique. For lack of a better term, it is a sort of racking iris. It is a spotlight placed on the two as they converse, highlighting how they are in a world of their own. The sound cuts out except for their conversation, in spite of being in a loud theater. They have eyes only for one another and the spotlight emphasizes this with the two staring longingly at one another. As the scene progresses, an angelic white light begins to appear behind Countess Olenska, further making her enticing and hinting at Newland's impending obsession with her and possessing her love and affection. This technique later returns towards the end of the film when Newland reads a letter to May from Countess Olenska in which she outlines her intentions to leave for Europe and return to her husband. With this iris spotlight exclusively on Newland's eyes as he reads the letter, you can feel the hurt, the pain, and the sense of loss as he must now re-focus his love on May or forever chase Countess Olenska's love, which would only bring shame and scandal upon his and her family. Prior to this scene though, Scorsese has the curtains close on Newland and May. With black edge of the frame closing in slowly on the couple and then appearing to be a stage curtain, the chapter and scene ends.
A beautifully done adaptation of the novel, polished, elegant and completely cinematic. It is also a bit distant, a film that doesn't wear its feelings on its sleeve, but given the effects it's after, that would be counterproductive. [17 Sept 1993, Calendar, p.F-1]
The finished film is graceful, gripping and more accessible than several of Scorsese's contemporary New York movies. Scorsese has created a model adaptation that manages to be both remarkably faithful to its source and more audience-friendly than the Merchant/Ivory movies to which it will be compared. [17 Sept 1993, p.D3]
Less fruitful is the casting of Michelle Pfeiffer as May's older cousin, the mysterious Countess Olenska, with whom Archer falls hopelessly in love. With her silly blond curls, Pfeiffer looks more plaintive than the dark exotic of Wharton's imagination.
A bore... The film leaves you with the feeling, once again, of having enjoyed a lovely meal fit for royalty only to discover, too late, that the fruit was made of wax and the roast was little more than a Styrofoam mock-up.
Scorsese's main problem is that he always talks about mafia in his movies and when he doesn't talk about mafia he talks about religion. When he goes out from his comfort zone always turns out to give his best. This one is a good movie in fact, wonderfully acted by all the members of the cast, nicely directed and edited. A good romantic drama.
Making period films is a challenge for any director, as historical rigour is something truly important and difficult to achieve. So difficult that many films choose to relativize its importance and make films that more easily portray the way we, in the 21st century, see the past, than the past itself. However, Scorcese was able to give us a film that overcomes this difficulty.
The story of this film is so trivial that it can be disappointing: at the end of the 19th century, the New York elite lives closed in its own world, stuck to its social conventions, copied from the Old World, and when it happens something that goes against rules, ostracism is guaranteed. Its in this environment that lives Newland Archer, who is engaged to the young and pure May Welland. All seems to be perfect but the arrival of Countess Ellen Olenska, who returns from Europe in order to escape a bad marriage, promises to endanger this plans, as she was the Newland's youth love and seems to give little importance to social conventions.
I think I understand why this film is now forgotten. Its a warm film, as the script simply tells a banal story of a period love triangle, full of comings and goings, exchanges of letters and repressed emotions. And its presumptuous because it gives itself a lot of importance and an air of dramatic super-production without having a script that justifies it. The problem is not the emotional restraint of the characters. This is something to be expected in a film set in the 19th century elite, for whom emotions were things that should not exist in public. The problem is that, besides making a good portrait of the behavior and mentality of that period, it has nothing else to give to the public. There is no story, there is no plot and the film is not able to compensate for that.
The cast has some strong names, starting with Daniel Day-Lewis, a real chameleon. He perfectly embodied his character, a well-born and educated man who knows his place and what is expected of him. The actor was excellent in the task of showing the mental confusion of his character when his feelings tried to counter the well-directed course he wanted to take in his life. Winona Ryder is perfect in the role of a young naive woman, raised inside a crystal dome but with a generous heart and a noble soul, in sharp contrast to the almost disruptive character of Michelle Pfeiffer. She is the elegant seductive woman, with a dubious and controversial past, who breaks through the city and behaves freely, shocking the conservative and who ends up discovering that America is no longer free or open-minded that the European countries from which she had decided to leave.
Technically, the film is extraordinary. Scorcese's style is there but discreet, as subtle as the emotions shown by the characters. Slowly and leisurely, the film drags on, as it moves from the theater to the ballroom and the elegant garden. Joanne Woodward's slightly monochordic deep voice doesn't help and makes it even heavier. Visually, its an opulent, grandiose film, with meticulously made sets and detailed props, in addition to having the best 19th century costumes I have ever seen in a feature film. Everything breathes ostentation, and earned this film an well-deserved Oscar for Best Costume Design.
But it is undoubtedly a numbing film, able to put to sleep the audience that are less sensitive to historical rigour. Our current mentality didn't like to restraining emotions, but it was the 19th century way of thinking and the film does nothing more than show it and be good at it. It is a pity that the plot is not so good, by giving us a truly engaging or moving story. Without this, the film resembles a gift box, brilliantly wrapped and with a large, showy bow on top, but with only a cheap present inside.
Love That Travels Bad.
The Age Of Innocence
Scorsese has that knack of being an outlaw even in a period piece as such. A love story set in the backdrop of a 19th century, the love factor is transpired as a wicked disease that rottens the core of oneself that questions. Yet, there is a certain coziness in their body language, when Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer first encounter each other awkwardly, Martin Scorsese's- the co writer and director- target lies on a play going on in that room. That very play helps a lot in setting up the scenes, and despite of having a narrator in storytelling, Scorsese uses one of his best asset, Daniel, for introducing his point on the table.
Often when such a long film, that covers a lot of years from jumping one incident to another, tends to lose the grasp over the audience and for a brief period it does so, but Scorsese being himself, pulls out his trump card Winona Ryder that he has been keeping aside for the first half. Presumably, the reason why Winona comes off a lot powerful than any other, is that she is alone for the most part of the film. Daniel and Michelle fights against themselves to not unite together, while Winona takes away all the big chips.
The monologues in the film are crucial to both, the makers and the actors, and this early cinema vibe that it offers, feels like a Sunday morning. You don't often see a vein popping, throat bulging, red turning face on the screen when the actors fight so passionately against each other. The Age Of Innocence is similar to the play, that these characters are moved with in the film, all drama with a pinch of romance, this is old textbook filmmaking at its best.
Moué... rien à faire, Scorsese son truc, c'est les gangsters, la mafia, les truands et les mauvais garçons : dès qu'il quitte ce genre, il est perdu et entraîne le spectateur avec lui dans l'ennui. Il devient un automate qui soigne ses plans cucul-la-praline, il fait des manières et des ronds-de-jambe tout comme l'ensemble de la distribution ici, dans ce New York de peigne-culs du 19ème siècle.
Une distribution soignée, brillante, tirée à quatre épingles, engoncée et constipée... et qui débite des âneries sentimentales à l'eau de rose périmée. Quant à l'histoire, cette espèce d'histoire superfétatoire, oiseuse et désuète, elle n'inspire que l'ennui (encore) et une vague commisération dédaigneuse. Un film futile et inutile.