Words and Pictures

Please be warned. No vulgarity, just a love story involving an alcoholic, lost teacher and an arthritic painter. Interested?

Words and PicturesThough this is a film that will likely disappear from the few theaters playing independent films, it has strengths that overcome weaknesses. Anchored by some meaningful performances from Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, its success flows from the fact that it is a cinematic intellectual field trip.

Mr. Owen plays Jack Marcus, an English instructor at a Connecticut prep school where most students look to enroll in Ivy League colleges. An intriguing instructor with a vast knowledge on the meaning and source of words, alcoholism is slowly destroying him. Living alone in a house he has reduced to rubble, his dedication to his students is matched only by his embrace of vodka.

Mr. Marcus soon finds himself competing with a new art instructor by the name of Dina Delsanto, played by the talented Juliette Binoche. She matches Marcus with a nasty attitude that accompanies her commitment to her students, though she is severely handicapped by arthritis. She walks with the assistance of a cane, and is followed by rumors that she clubbed a student at a prior school. With a sarcastic grin, she denies that allegation, claiming that it was actually a fellow teacher whom she smacked.

The film evolves in to an ongoing war between competing classes to see if words or paintings carry the most meaning in life. Jack and Dina initially don’t care for each other, but a closeness gradually develops through their competition.

What I really liked about this movie was its approach to students in a fashion that transcends the recent box office success of Neighbors and 22 Jump Street. Sure, there is the occasional student who you secretly want to beat with Dina’s cane, but most of them are approaching the entire educational process as a learning experience. Importantly, the young girls rise above the image of boozy tramps as reflected by the above-referred to Neighbors.

Ms. Binoche is a wonderful actress, and she made Godzilla memorable with her heartrending death as her husband was forced to watch. Mr. Owen is also an actor of great range, and you only need to hunt down Children of Men (2006), Shoot ‘Em Up (2007) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).

The value of this film is that it focuses on students’ minds while teachers fight physical infirmities. While Mr. Owen does a wonderful job trying to justify his character’s alcohol abuse, it is stimulating to see a variety of wonderful paintings that Ms. Binoche personally completed off screen.

This is a movie that forces you to think and feel. How could any rational adult possibly enjoy that experience?