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The White Countess (2005)

In film, period drama, political, Recommendation, Review on 01/07/2011 at 6:34 pm

This British/American/German/Chinese co-production starring Ralph Fiennes and Natasha Richardson wasn’t received all too warmly in the US. I could imagine that’s because director James Ivory let the story be told as it was intended by (London based) Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro. The White Countess is a gentling trickling drama. It oozes the dusty, confused and romantic 1930s in Shanghai.

The Russian countess Sofia (Richardson) was chased from her motherland along with her family and works as a taxi-dancer in nightclubs to support them. Her conservative family members are deeply ashamed of their demise into poverty and if can be even more ashamed of Sofia. When the blind former US diplomat Todd Jackson hears Sofia speak one night, he is sure she can make his dream come true: to establish his own, classy and avant-garde night club called The White Countess.

This historical drama isn’t just a beautiful production with a well written script and outstanding acting. It’s also a film much appreciated by me, but certainly not by all, because it doesn’t make much sense. The second Sino-Japanese war is about to break out, yet the pace is gentle. Jackson is a diplomat, but that doesn’t mean he is politically alert. Cruel decisions are made where you expect kind ones, and kind gestures come from the most unlikely places.

Practical advice: make sure you have subtitles for the French and Mandarin bits. There aren’t many, but still.

Apologies for the lack of a video. I chose not to post the trailer because it gives away too much of the story and the Hollywood voice-over makes it sound dreadful.

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