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There are three kinds of men. Men who are not afraid to cry, men who are afraid to cry, and men who cry all the time until you just want to shake them. Men in this final category are few and far between, thankfully, as that kind of sensitivity goes beyond the soulful into profound creepiness. When they're going for something deep, Hollywood filmmakers will often pull out some tear-jerking gimmick; in this case, a strong male character is reduced to tears long enough to prove what we already knew--that he's a good man. The filmmakers think so highly of the crying man that they made him into the title of the film, The Man Who Cried.
Before I carry further into this discussion, I should apologize for cheating on you. This is not a French film, but a U.S. film set in France and wearing a faint perfume of French sensitivity. What separates it from a lot of the French cinema I've talked about is that it does not aim at verisimilitude. By now you should know that "verisimilitude" means "similarity to truth," because I've been discussing this for the past three weeks. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, although entirely sung, is very true to life, portraying familiar characters in realistic troubles. The Taste of Others, a recent film is also true to life in its exploration of relationships between people. I even mentioned The City of Lost Children as an example of fanciful filmmaking that still aims at a realistic mode. Although science fiction, it attempts to portray the future without rose-colored glasses and tries to let its characters act in obvious ways once they are established in all their unlikelihood.
Obviousness, it should be pointed out, is not a bad quality. Cleverness, that drive to outsmart the viewer at the expense of a story, is.
Now we return to The Man Who Cried. Though it has realistic aspects, it is certainly not aiming at realism. It is aiming directly and monomaniacally at emotionalism. It's also aiming at blockbuster status by pairing Christina Ricci with Johnny Depp as in the successful Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and adding John Turturro as the heavy (in place of Christopher Walken's headless horseman). The film is much more clever than obvious. It has to think up ingenious ways of getting characters here and there. Unlikely situations arise to further the story, showing just what a unique tale this one is, and thank goodness it is unique.
Set in World-War-II-era Europe, our heroin, Christina Ricci, flees some eastern-bloc village during the Russian pogroms and, as a young girl, takes up residence alone in England. She grows up to be a dark and sad woman with a secret Jewish heritage. For some reason, she goes to Paris to find work. The film was very polite in not imposing its details on my long-term memory. As her father was a cantor, she has inherited some singing talent and is able to get a chorus part in an opera, starring the fascistic Italian prima donna played by Turturro.
He has eyes for Ricci, but she's hotter for Depp, a local gypsy who manages the appearance of a live horse in the opera. As Jew and Gypsy, they are in peril from the advancing Nazis. They have some love scenes that would have been hot, except that the scenes are trying to keep present the sense of impending doom around these two. Therefore, they are more dark than hot. Mrs. Worsted thought that Depp was also more dark than hot. Strapped into a role that permits him not articulation or poetry, he must rely solely on his good looks. But since he's usually disheveled and grime-coated, even those good looks aren't as effective. Ricci may be lovely, but again, it was hard to tell. She's permitted mainly pouting and restrictive clothing. Turturro, who the Mrs. usually flips for, plays a one-dimensional baddie with such effect that even my wife didn't like him.
Finally, Ricci flees Paris for her life, but Depp must stay with his people, and he cries. Though a very different film, I'd recommend John Waters' Cry Baby as a better venue for Johhny Depp's tears. People who fall for European trappings on a true-blue-American core may choose to express appreciation for this film (and its lack of subtitles). For the desperate, vivid visuals always provide a reason to like a film, and, for the most part, all films delivery some kind of vividness. This one is no exception.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.