On the human side, this is a very subtle
and complex story, written by Graham Greene about the experiences of a
writer during the bombing of London in World War Two. On the other hand,
it combines the understated human elements with some spiritual or mystical
overtones which seem far larger than life.
Ralph Fiennes, playing the writer who
bears a remarkable resemblance to Graham Greene, wanders though London on
a rainy night just after the war when he chances upon an old acquaintance
who also happens to be the husband of Fiennes' ex-lover (Julianne Moore).
She was the great love of Fiennes' life, but broke off their relationship
two years earlier - suddenly, unexpectedly, and apparently without cause.
The husband, unaware of Fiennes' real relationship with her, confesses
that he suspects she is unfaithful to him, and is considering using a
detective service. Fiennes', still racked with a sense of loss, jealous of
the husband for still having her, jealous of the presumed current lover,
and still curious about why she left him, agrees to act as the husband's
surrogate in hiring the detective, thus placing him back in her life,
after a fashion.
The lovers soon re-unite, and when they
do, Moore explains why she had left Fiennes in the first place. During one
of their assignations, Fiennes had apparently been killed by a bomb. Moore
went into her room, got on her knees to God, and promised Him that she'd
end the affair if He would only spare Fiennes. When Fiennes miraculously
seemed to come back to life, Moore kept her promise to God and walked out
of Fiennes' life "forever," or tried to.
Now we have two difficulties:
- In the course of the investigation,
Fiennes and Moore come together again, which means that Fiennes himself
is now being investigated by the operatives of the very detective agency
he hired to follow Moore. Since the street detective and the
representative in the office are two different men, nobody is aware at
first that the man they are reporting to and they man they are reporting
about are the same man!
- More important, when Moore got back
with Fiennes, she thereby broke her promise to God. God is not
particularly happy about this. Not content simply to let her be
tormented by her guilt, he decides to strike her down immediately with a
fatal disease, even though she is obviously a good person.
The final act of the play occurs when
Moore dies. The detective who had been following Fiennes and Moore met
Fiennes at Moore's funeral, and told him an amazing story. One day, the
detective's son had been helping him tail Moore. The boy fell asleep at
his post, and was actually awakened by Moore herself, who gave him some
money and led him to the Underground. The boy had a severe skin disease on
his left cheek. Moore touched him gently on the left cheek, and the boy
Obviously, God knew that Moore was a
saintly and good person despite her broken promise.
I'm not really into the whole guilt and
punishment and miracle part of the story, but what I liked were the subtle
and human touches. When the husband found out about Fiennes' real
relationship with his wife, they all worked it out sensibly. Moore was
obviously a deeply religious person, racked with guilt over her adultery,
and she still loved her husband even though they had no passion together,
and she still loved Fiennes deeply after they broke up. When Moore got
fatally ill, the husband and Fiennes took turns caring for her. When she
died, the two of them became best of friends, joined by something more
powerful than that which separated them. 90% of the film carries a mood of
resigned sadness, loss, and spiritual pain, and who better to play the
husband than Steven Rea, that infinitely world-weary actor who specializes
in resignation. I also enjoyed the performance by Ian Hart as the
deferential but determined detective.
The movie is beautifully photographed,
and was nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography.
This tear-jerker is not everyone's cup of
tea, but it is a beautifully mounted interpretation, beautifully acted,
and I liked everything about it except the damned miracle. By the way,
there was a 1955 movie made from the same popular novel, which was written
This film is a C+ on our scale. Excellent
period romantic drama. If you like weepy-ass dyin' woman movies, bring out
an extra box of Kleenex for this one, because it is the state-of-the-art
in that sub-genre. Constant rain and fog, kisses under umbrellas,
innumerable farewells, achingly beautiful images, hangdog expressions,
punishment from God himself, and Steven Rea. Nearly the perfect recipe for
a severe depression, lacking only Juliette Binoche to complete the great
mandala of sadness.