There will always be an England, and, just as surely, there will always be English movies like The Heart of Me in which brittle characters in starched outfits declaim, “It takes more than love to sustain a marriage.” Or, my favorite, the ever-popular “Are you quite mad?” Starring Olivia Williams and Helena Bonham Carter as dueling sisters in pre- and postwar London, the movie is replete with so many lines of this ilk that it’s practically a golden-oldies compendium.
Williams’s Madeleine is the elegantly cool socialite whose husband, Rickie, played by Paul Bettany, finds himself enamored of Carter’s Dinah, a self-styled bohemian. Dinah flits about looking like a tatty Punchinella, but her eccentricity—rather mild by English standards, is really a sign of desperation. She’s up to no good, and yet she’s the Life Force. Her rolls in the hay with Rickie are in the best prim tradition of “quality” cinema: The two of them, nude, pull at their covers and roll giggling and panting off the bed. Even though The Heart of Me is meant to be all about passion, there’s precious little of it on the screen; it’s been blotted out by the good taste of director Thaddeus O’Sullivan. His movie could easily have been made 60 years ago. This is not intended as a compliment.
Finding Nemo is the new treasure from Pixar Animation Studios, following Monsters, Inc., A Bug’s Life, and the two Toy Story movies. Directed by Andrew Stanton and co-written with Bob Peterson and David Reynolds, this may be the most accomplished Pixar movie yet, and further proof that the palette of computer-animated visuals can be as radiant and subtle as much of the best hand-drawn work. Set in Australia, mostly around the Great Barrier Reef, the film is about Marlin, a widowed clown fish (wonderfully voiced by Albert Brooks) who goes to feverish lengths to reclaim his sole surviving son, Nemo, who has been caught and deposited in a dentist’s fish tank. Teaming up with Marlin is Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a highly forgetful blue tang who, in perhaps the film’s loveliest, and scariest, moment, finds herself drifting helplessly through a swarm of pink jellyfish. Numerous other memorable scenes include an AA-style meeting of sharks trying to control their appetite for fish (their motto: “Fish are friends, not food”) and a wonderful interlude with giant sea turtles who hurtle through the East Australian Current as if they were surfer dudes. Finding Nemo is distributed by Disney, and it has what the most heartfelt Disney animated features used to have: rapturous imagery matched with real wit.
Starkiss: Circus Girls in India (at Film Forum) is a bewilderingly sad documentary about the (mostly) Nepalese children, ranging from age 6 through their late teens, who are sold by their parents to the Great Rayman Circus, one of India’s best known. The Dutch documentarians Chris Relleke and Jascha de Wilde gained access to the girls, who live in near-isolation from the rest of the traveling-circus troupe and were chosen for their prettiness and agility. Starkiss—the title refers to a stunt in which a girl holds a rope in her mouth and spins high in the air—isn’t presented as a shocking exposé; the circus owners and the other performers are not shown to be physically abusive, and the girls seem proud of their circus skills and happy to be in a family of sorts. The disquiet in this movie cuts deeper than mere shock. Some of the girls may speak wistfully of returning to their parents, but for many of them, the future is more likely to play itself out in the red-light district of Bombay. These circus performers in their pink skirts give genuine pleasure to their audience, including children who are roughly the same age. They are valued for their youth—the same youth that is being subtly, inexorably robbed from them.