Friday, December 2, 2011

Independent Film Review: "A Dangerous Method" (2011), by Payman Akhlaghi

Knightley in David
Cornenberg's Film

"A Dangerous Method" (2011, English, c. 100 mins)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Music by Howard Shore
Screen adaptation by Christopher Hampton, from his play, "The Talking Cure", Based on the book "A Most Dangerous Method" by John Kerr
Cast: Keira Knightley (Sabina Spielrein), Viggo Mortensen (Sigmund Freud), Michael Fassbender (Carl Jung), Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gordon, et al.
(The original version of this review was first published at Payman's Personal Facebook Page, December 2nd, 2011. © 2011, all text by Payman Akhlaghi, unless noted. All rights reserved for the author.)

"We're Jews, my dear Miss Spielrein, and Jews we will always be.", so says Sigmund Freud, in director Cronenberg's latest film, about Freud, Jung, and Sabina Spielrein, a patient and later colleague of theirs. Today, she's credited, as a psychoanalyst, to have anticipated and perhaps inspired both men in some aspects of their theories. (*)

I meant to write about this film since I saw it on its first night in LA. A deliberately patient visual style has allowed the very impatient characters, and their equally passionate enactors, to come through with an exceptional, intriguing sense of urgency. Indeed, the consistently heartfelt, nuanced and sophisticated performances could garner an Oscar nomination for Ms. Knightely, if not also for Mr. Mortensen and Mr. Fassbinder.

David Cronenberg's attraction to this project must have been a given, for "Crash (1996)" revealed him as a true Freudian at heart. His recent film, however, projects a shy, tame air, rather uncharacteristic among his oeuvre, which could bespeak of his deep respect for the subject. It also suggests his sharp instincts and correct insights for having allowed the psychological depths of these historical figures be expressed with much immediacy, without apparent excess control or spasmodic interruptions. The result is an often engaging film, to which every word and every gesture of the characters, as living human beings, does matter. Although reflected on a flat screen, it's indeed more three-dimensional in the true sense of the word, than most 3D films released these days.

The original music by Hpward Shore, next to the period music adapted by him, further reflects the minimalistic approach of the director, and amid the simplicity of their material, the thin textures, octave doublings, or piano solos, it does add much to the drama, and the beautiful images. The opening credits, in particular, have succeeded in highlighting the existential stormy currents which underly the generally quiet surface of the images.

The screen adaptation of the paly by Christopher Hampthon himself has succeeded in expanding the locations and actions beyond the confines of the stage without losing the tangible immediacy of a chamber ensemble. In that respect, this film could be cited almost on par with "Debt (2008)", and have a say next to "A Man for All Seasons" and "The Miracle Maker", all of which were adapted for screen by their playwrights.

On a marginal note, I'd like to quote here from a post I had published on my Facbook Wall on December 1st, 2011, which read, "Jews, it seems, hardly feel to belong anywhere. That could be why so many prominent Jews, throughout ages, have ended up belonging to everywhere. One could argue that Spinoza's selfless pursuit of philosophical truth, Heschel's dedication to the rights of America's Black community, Buber's humanistic dialogue of the hearts, not to mention the long list of Nobel Laureates in sciences & literature, all owe their genuine cosmopolitanism in part to the intricate dialectics of one man's sense of communal identity versus his place in the larger scheme of the world. .(Jewish Pride Week, No.1. (c) 2011, Payman Akhlaghi.)" In retrospect, it seems to me, that Freud's name might have offered a more symptomatic case for what I was trying to express.

(*) As the film informs us, Freud was to be forced out of Vienna due to the rise of Nazism. He soon died of cancer in Paris. Sabina Spielrein, by then a practicing psychoanalyst, was taken by the SS Death Squad to a synagogue, and executed there, along with her two children. For more information, please visit Sabina's Wiki page.

© 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

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