THE HANDMAID'S TALE
DIRECTOR:    VOLKER SCHLONDORFF
GERMANY 1990
CINEMATOGRAPHY:    IGOR LUTHER
MUSIC:    RYUICHI SAKAMOTO
CAST: Natasha Richardson (Kate), Faye Dunaway (Serena), Aidan Quinn (Nick), Elizabeth McGovern, Victoria Tennant, Robert Duvall, Blanche Baker, Traci Lind, Zoey Wilson
WRITTEN BY:    HAROLD PINTER
ONE WORD:    Slow film, but it is about acting and the Harold Pinter theatrical style.


This film, when one looks at it, seems to be a strong one, or at least one that will prove to be interesting. But it isn't. While the story develops, it is nonetheless slow, methodical, and never seems to get moving.  Perhaps, this may just be the combination of Harold Pinter and Volker Schlondorff which makes this so. While it may be good for theatre in Harold Pinter's case, it really makes for a film that is overburdened by catchy moments, which are always important and provide the actors with very good moments, but in the hands of
a director that downplays them, it seems to get lost.

A HANDMAID'S TALE is the story of a futuristic system that chooses women for their ability to produce boys as children, and enslaves them. Kate happens to be one of the women caught up in the system's counter revolution. While it isn't clear, she may have been married to one of the revolutionaries that were killed in the process of trying to get something done for the revolution. But what he couldn't do, Kate manages to do with a little luck.

The training school for the women is a brainwashing institution that is set up so the women are prepared to bear a child for someone else, most likely of a higher strata in the society. The commander and his wife do not seem to be able to produce children, and Kate happens to become the one who is supposed to help him produce a child for them. Eventually she does. And with the commander's best intentions and desires, including his wish to have part of the whole thing be illicit, which his wife does not accept at all. The commander's wife only wants the child she can not have.

And in the end, the revolutionaries are capable of setting up the downfall of the commander, with a little help from Kate and her closeness to him. But the system is still strong, and
despite its losing one of its forces, and probable creator, it still manages to continue. Kate, with help, were only able to put a dent on the whole thing. But I suppose the theme is
that any small revolution is better than none.

Harold Pinter has a nice script, that seems to be better suited for a stage presentation than a film. Granted, this is an odd thing to say to any film, but the sets are so closed up, and
claustrophobic, that it seems to beg for the three walls that one is used to. And there are nice moments for each actor, with the acting being the strongest thing in this film. But the film suffers. It is either the slowness that it is done with, or what seems like a well designed script in not as good hands, or at least hands that do not understand a good script. And this is a harsh thing to say in light of the fact that German Playwrights played a very nice part in the London theater scene in the late 60's and made quite a sensation. But for once, it appears that Pinter's deliberate slow dialogue style is fine, but it is relying on the actors and perhaps this film maker is not as good at detailing the acting with a camera as ... say ... a Martin Scorcese might. And the film suffers, unless it was intentional to give that society that tone, as a form of control.

With some nice moments in the music, there are a lot of things that this film should be liked for, but alas, it doesn't quite get up there. Natasha Richardson is very good, and a treat to
watch, in what basically is a sexless role for her, playing a slave to whom the whole act of creation means nothing to her at all, as a slave.

Volker Schlondorff has come a long way, but compared to his long ago, THE TIN DRUM, this is a disappointment, even if its theme is very important to the woman's cause. Perhaps the greatest oddity of all, is that all the flags in the limousines of the state, are the American flag. If the thought, and theme, is a hidden one stating that American women are subjugated to nothing but making babies, perhaps Europe should check its long standing history of the upper class taking advantage of the lower ones, specially women. A flag that would not be quite the same as the American one, would be more appropriate, even if the American woman could use a little of the waking up call. But then, where did the men come from? ... was it all just an ego exercise? And maybe this discussion takes away from the film, and it probably has little to do with the whole thing, but it is the kind of feeling that one walks out with when seeing this.

3 GIBLOONS

 

   

      

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