An art instructor and an English teacher form a rivalry that ends up with a competition at their school in which students decide whether words or pictures are more important.
“Words and Pictures” tells the story of Jack Marcus (Clive Owen), an English school teacher who takes his class very seriously. He is a published poet and award-winning writer that has fallen into a slump and battles alcoholism on a daily basis. Enter Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), a reticent art teacher who, like Jack, takes her class very seriously. Jack is immediately drawn to her but she is standoffish and initially, she does everything in her power to keep her distance but he perseveres and they eventually begin a relationship. As their students go from English class to Art class, Dina reminds her students of the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words” and so, unintentionally, she has just initiated a high-spirited war between her and Jack, who counterclaims that without the written word, mankind would not be able to communicate with each other, let alone express their admiration and appreciation of a beautiful picture.
I’ve always liked Clive Owen as an actor and when he was in the running for the part of James Bond, I really hoped he would get it. He can be charming, funny, romantic but he also has that mysterious side and can be rugged, dark and very dangerous. Here though, for the most part, he plays his role with dashing enthusiasm. He loves his students and he loves to teach and when he sees that they’re not applying themselves, he tries to instill into them, the importance of education and how it will play a huge part in their adult lives. Ms. Binoche plays her part with apathetic conviction. Her Dina suffers from severe Rheumatoid Arthritis and at times, her hands swell up to superfluous proportions and because of this, she periodically becomes enraged and resentful, frustrated that she can’t perform the simple task of picking up a paintbrush and applying paint to paper and we sympathize with her.
What I particularly liked about the movie, was the exuberant competition that Jack and Dina set up, not just for their students, but for each other. They are both experts in their chosen field of study but the test will challenge not only their belief that their specific subject matter is more important than the other, but also who they are, not just as teachers but as human beings. When asked by a student why he takes his lunch break in his car every day, he says it’s because he doesn’t have to answer mundane questions like that. In reality, he sits in his car so he can drink his flask of vodka without being noticed and throughout the movie, when troublesome or frustrating situations arise, he immediately reaches for the bottle. It gets to the breaking point when he is at Dina’s place and she shows him a painting she created, one she says took her a long time to achieve and he gets drunk and inadvertently falls into it and ruins it.
At that moment, you just want to reach into the screen and slap him in the hopes that he’ll realize the damage he’s doing, not just to himself but to those around him who care for him and love him. He thinks nobody can see him drinking in his car but that is clearly not the case and he finds out that he is up for review and could possibly lose his job. Naturally, this just makes things worse for him and instead of sobering up, he drinks more and director Fred Schepisi (“Six Degrees of Separation”) is able to do the impossible, make Jack so damn likable when he’s sober and teaching, that you stick by his side, through thick and thin, even when he continually screws up. He’s that best friend who has always been there for you during your own trying times and now, because he’s in a bad place, you don’t have to even think about helping him, it just comes naturally and that is not an easy feat to achieve in a movie.
When the big day arrives, both teachers and their students debate in front of the entire school, why their focus of attention is more important than the other but slowly, they come to the realization that neither one can exist without the other and that they are both equally as important. Jack and Dina realize the same about each other and while both of them have their flaws and neither one is perfect, they are perfect for each other. Bruce Davison (“X-Men”), Amy Brenneman (“Judging Amy”) and Navid Negahban (“Homeland”) all shine as wonderful supporting characters. “Words and Pictures” is pure and uncluttered with assured performances from the entire cast. Highly recommended.
In select theaters June 6th including the Magnolia Dallas
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