Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Notes on a Scandal

By Sati. Tuesday, July 3, 2012 , , , , , , , ,
88/100 (92 min, 2006)
Plot: A veteran high school teacher befriends a younger art teacher, who is having an affair with one of her 15-year-old students. However, her intentions with this new "friend" also go well beyond platonic friendship.  
Director: Richard Eyre
Writers: Patrick Marber (screenplay), Zoe Heller (novel)
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench and Andrew Simpson

 Secrets can be seductive

Notes on a Scandal is a remarkable movie - it's not because of particularly strong script or original story. It's not even because of great work from Cate Blanchett. It is a movie that is worth watching over and over again for Judy Dench's incredible and unforgettable work as Barbara, older teacher who desperately looks for a friend. And when I say desperately you have no idea how deep that desperation goes.

Barbara is a teacher in a school filled with students from poor environment, who will mostly grow up without probably achieving anything. Fights, swearing, disgusting writings on the bathroom walls - that is the kind of school Barbara works in. She is strict, well organized, sullen. One day a new teacher - very naive and innocent Sheba - comes to work in the school and from that moment forward everything changes.
The story seemingly revolves around two women as we hear Barbara' thoughts about Sheba and the world around them and as we watch Sheba succumbing to the flirting with 15-year old student and entering a passionate love affair with him. But scene by scene it is Barbara who captivates our attention as we are starting to see that her efforts at making a friend are deeply sinister, selfish and unhealthy. When Barbara finds out about Sheba's affair with a student she doesn't tell anyone about it - not to protect Sheba, but to create an emotional debt Sheba will have to pay for the rest of her life.

We don't know whether Barbara is just lonely or mentally insane. We see her solitude, which she only shares with her cat - those scenes show that Barbara is definitely not a psychopath as she cares for her cat dearly, being worried sick as she is ill and crying as if it was her own child. It is after all, the only living creature that every shared Barbara's life with her, fully and lovingly. Barbara doesn't have family or friends and that's why she is so overjoyed when Sheba appears and opportunity arises to be close to her. It is clear from the very first moments that Barbara has found her target and she won't back down until she gets what she wants - a faithful companion.
But the more we know about Barbara the more disturbed we find out she is - she has a pattern, she has a mission in life - to have someone just for herself. What makes the movie so chilling is that Barbara - just with ploys, words and manipulation - has several people in her grasp. And because of how bizarre she is, she is probably not even aware of the damage she is doing. She writes everything in her diary, which in addition to the cat is her only confidant. When manipulation goes according to the plan she gives herself a gold star for an accomplishment and writes about her day being successful.

Judi Dench's layered performance aided by beautiful written monologues we hear her tell us in narrative is fantastic. It is chilling, complex and horrifying - as we get to see layer by layer how much damage loneliness and desperation did to Barbara, her perception of things, her utter lack of understanding for another people's desires and her ability to use her intelligence to her own gain at the expense of others. Her loneliness is like a poison that she is compelled to pass on the others, foolish or naive enough to appear and stay in her life.
The film is at its best when it focuses on her character and we get to see the sheltered, psychotic little life she is leading, almost as if she was in the dungeon plotting against everyone in her life, without even realizing how much evil she can inflict on people. What makes her character even more fascinating is how she is able to go on without creating anything genuine towards other people - she wants Sheba only because she does, only because she wants someone more permanent than cat as her friend.

The film plays a little with the idea of Barbara being sexually attracted to Sheba, which only adds more tragedy to her character. Her and Sheba make for an odd duo, even as friends. Deep down Barbara must realize that as lovers they would make even less sense. Those underlying realization of the fact that what she is doing is odd and wrong only cripples her more, although she is fighting it every minute of every day, never allowing herself to realize just how disturbed she is.
Sheba is played by Cate Blanchett in another one of her fantastic performances. Although I think the way her romance story was written is lacking a bit of credibility and development, Blanchett manages to create work that rises above it and create a portrait of deeply lost woman, mostly by her forbidden desires, who nevertheless loves her family deeply and can't stand it when her actions are the ones that cause them so much pain. There is one particularly impressive sequence where Blanchett gets out of the house, looking like a complete whore and starts screaming. It is a moment when all of her frustration, pain and the acknowledgement of her mistakes erupted and cleanse her enough to start over again.

Notes on a Scandal
has great acting and very interesting and thrilling script, although it is far from being perfect - especially the characters of the youngest actors in the movie aren't developed well, especially Sheba's lover who is so uninteresting and silly one can only wonder why would she jeopardize everything to be with him. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth seeing and the acting chemistry between Dench and Blanchett is certainly something to marvel at.




25 comments:

  1. What a great film. I like that you pay much attention to Barbara, because it's not just a story about a teacher who got involved with a minor. Both Dench and Blanchett were amazing in this film! I agree with pretty much everything that you have written, but I'd also add that it has a fantastic original score. I'm a fan of good music accompaniment in movies and I remember this one well. It was good.

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    1. Oh I love the score to this movie. It definetly added a lot of tension to the scenes.

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  2. I like this movie kind of a lot. It's one of those strange little dramas that has that extra touch of 'scandal' to make it really, really watchable. Plus, nearly every time I hear the Siouxsie and the Banshees song "Dizzy" I think of this. Way to dig this up!!

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    1. It does have this creepy, underlying vibe to it. For me what makes it so rewatchable is the acting and observing how Barbara created this little cage for Sheba only by using her ploys.

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  3. This is actually one of my favourite films ever. Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench are magnificent together.

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    1. They really are, what a wonderful casting.

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  4. How is it that I have yet to see this, even with my love for Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett? Sounds absolutely creepy! Great review!

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    1. Judi Dench's character is quite frightening and definetly creepy. If you love those two this one is a must see!

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  5. What no GIFS? heheh I do love a gif

    I haven't seen this in such a long time. Thanks for reminding me about it. I do love Judi, sorry Dame Judi!!

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    1. Forgotten to include any this time :) No worries, Rambling Friday post always makes up for the lack of gifs ^^

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  6. Great review! Though I started to skim once I realized I NEED to see this!!

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    1. You really do! it's a fantastic movie and for me the finest work by Judi Dench.

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  7. I wasn't as high on this film the last time I saw it, but I love the performances and the score.

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    1. Blanchett and dench definetly brought in their A game here!

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    2. Don't forget Bill Nighy! :)

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    3. I don't think Blanchett has a B game. Hell, Dench too.

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    4. Nighy was awesome too, though I enjoy his work in comedies more.

      That is true, haven't seen a single bad or even lazy performance from those two.

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  8. Good review. I felt the best thing about it was the look inside the thought processes of a person who is disturbed. Movies often just have someone doing something bad because they need an antagonist. This one actually showed a somewhat understandable sequence of thoughts that could lead a person to doing something wrong.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, I loved the fact that Barbara was narrating and we actually heard what she wrote in her diary.

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  9. Great review! I think it is among the most underrated dramas of the 2000s. Sheba and Barbara seem oddly unaware of their mistakes, totally selfish.I like what you say about Barbara: "without creating anything genuine towards other people."
    Barbara has a lot of spare time on her hands to speculate and over-analyze, but she doesn't look at her own mistakes in the past. Maybe denial is the theme.(as you wrote:"never allowing herself to realize just how disturbed she is."
    I love when a film challenges the viewer to understand each person's behaviour and relationships to the other characters.
    I prefer the title of the book.

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    1. Thank you! I agree, despite the nominations the film remains a hidden gem. The character of Barbara is incredibly written but Sheba was decently portrayed in the script too, though I feel it was a bit lacking when it comes to her affair and her reasons for having it.

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  10. I've had this movie for about a year and you've finally convinced me to watch it! Sounds fascinating.

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    1. Check it out, really interesting movie and the performances are fantastic!

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  11. I heard about this movie because I'm suffering from borderline personality disorder, and they said that Barbara was probably suffering from it too. I watch for this reason, just to see what it was about (and I read the book too), if I was able to relate myself to the character. Saddly, it looks that way. We don't have the same history, and we're not the same (she's a woman in her 60s, I'm a young man in my 20s), but we share the same obsessive thinkings. I can say that it's a very difficult situation to be in. To act, sometimes, as we do. ''Knowing without knowing''... very disturbing. I can't really explain myself, it's hard, but I wanted to express myself on the movie and the Barbara character.
    Thanks for the nice review!

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    1. Hi Jimmy, thanks so much for stopping by! I'm sorry to hear that, I hope you will get better. I understand how this must be a difficult situation, but if it helps I sometimes relate to characters like that too - everyone has some flaws, because of the way they are or the way they act. But there are good things too.
      Glad you liked the review!

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