Thu 22 Nov 2012
The local cinematheque screened a few weeks ago the 2000 adaptation of Edit Wharton’s now classic novel The House of Mirth, whose first screen adaptation to screen dates back from 1918.
The House of Mirth is a combination of a social and personal drama the story of the descent of a young woman from high class into poverty, of the price to be paid for keeping the dignity in a society that seems to define rigidly the place and track in life of each human being according to their birth, their place in the social hierarchy, their sex, and their material fortune. The American society at the beginning of the 20th century does not seem to resemble too much to the land of all opportunities described in many other literary or cinematographic works. Lily Bart, the apparently apparently frivolous character who stays in the center of the action is smart and beautiful, apparently high in the social hierarchy but too poor to be allowed to make her own choices and play a different role than the one of the well-married girl, or of the woman supported by rich and powerful men. Her refuse to surrender to the social pressure ends in catastrophic results.
12 years only after it was made Terence Davies’ film looks much older than it’s age. A team of TV stars from the 80s (Eric Stolz), 90s (Gilian Anderson) and 2000s (Anthony LaPaglia) does more than a decent job, but I felt like the adaptation to screen borrowed some of the stiffness of the social environment described in the story. More passion, more nuances in the relationship between the characters would have made this film more interesting. Gilian Anderson is a great actress but her discrete acting seems pushed one step too far, her breaking down comes too late to give meaning to her self-sacrifice. This too academic version to screen is interesting mostly for the fans of the social historical American dramas. Which is kind of a paradox as the novel was at its time an exercise in contemporary prose. But this is also history.