Over the course of a midsummer night in Fermanagh in 1890, an unsettled daughter of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy encourages her father's valet to seduce her.
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★★★★ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
TIFF 2014 film #15
Reason for pick: To quote my wife ( who picks all the picks ) “’Cause it’s Liv Ullmann and Chastain and Morton are in it” 'nuff said.
Having just recently watched Persona I was intrigued by the idea of Ullmann directing a film at this stage in her career and potentially how Chastain might be the modern realization of Ullmann's roles with Bergman. Both are beautifully sculptured women that you just know are complex and powerful under the skin. Both are capable of ice cold realizations that can turn on a dime to emotional fire.
Ullmann doesn’t shy away from Burgmanesque close-ups. As it happened, we were in a Cineplex AVX theatre that had a screen just short of Digital IMAX size, and because of our lateness were seated in the fifth row. I am now completely intimate with Chastain’s pours and Ferrell’s nose hair. Another inconvenience was the fact that the presentation was interrupted three times by the projector lamp failing. The first time it took a good five minutes for a technician to arrive and re-strike it and rewind the film. I think the tech was standing by, as the subsequent two failures were dealt with more expediently. This is just a small rant about the complete loss of showmanship with the loss of the dedicated projectionist. Cheaper to give a refund; who cares if a first impression is ruined? It’s just a movie after all , right?
Based on August Strindberg’s play of the same name, Miss Julie is a typical Upstairs Downstairs, but set at Midsummer’s Night; a night in which anything can happen, and it all does. I’m somewhat reminded of an Agatha Christie, where you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. After about the fourth or fifth time, though, you kind of get the idea of what’s going to happen next. That’s the weakness of the film, and possibly the play that it’s based on. While not overlong, in retrospect I feel it could have benefited from a bit of judicious pruning.
What’s not in doubt is the commitment of the actors. Not since William Friedkin’s Bug have I seen such ardent portrayals. This is acting without a net. There is no fear, there are just a fervid performances. Renderings such as these require trust, and you can’t get them if the performers don’t believe in their director. While Ullmann hasn’t matched her mentor’s greatness on her first outing, she certainly is on the right path. At 75, I hope she has at least a good half dozen films in her yet. I’m certainly going to be paying attention.
★★★★ review by amanda on Letterboxd
52 Films Directed by Women : film #6
I went into this expecting not to like it. It has a 2.9 on here which usually guarantees some sort of flawed experience presented by the film itself. The ratings and reviews I glanced over were "meh" but geez... I was wrong.
The story is simple: an aristocrat's daughter (Jessica Chastain) attempts to seduce her valet (Colin Farrell) one midsummer's night before the return of her father, but this valet is engaged to the cook (Samantha Morton).
I was extremely curious to see Ullmann's work as a director. I admire her greatly as an actress and you can definitely see Ingmar Bergman's influence in the camerawork. The opening sequence shows a young girl exploring the open space of her father's estate with a fervid curiousity that reminded me of the opening of Ivan's Childhood (side note: tbh I've started a lot of Bergman films but usually don't get through them). There were extreme close-ups on a gradually dissociating Chastain where she looked like a perfect replica of Ullmann in Persona. The film was a collection of such nuanced moments that helped it transcend past a simple play-to-film adaptation.
Despite this, Miss Julie still managed to retain its theatrical roots in the plot and performances, but I feel this added rather than detracted from the experience. There were only 3 actors carrying the film and each poured such fervent emotion into the dialogue. This minimalism was complimented by the set design, which was sparse but still extremely detailed and beautiful. It was comprised mainly of a castle kitchen with a few exterior sequences. Ullmann did an amazing job(!) at creating the illusion of a bustling environment despite the solitude of her actors. Every footstep, whisper, and scream felt as though they warranted the appearance of another character coming in to ruin our protagonist's lives for their transgressions, but they never did.
The only elements that bothered me was the run time which was unnecessarily long for the material and the character motivations which were often muddled behind sporadic emotional outbursts. However, the film moved at a decent pace overall and kept me on my toes. I was really surprised and grateful to have liked it so much. I'll definitely look into Ullmann's other works.
★★★★ review by JC on Letterboxd
Time after time of trying to watch lavish period-piece films have left me disappointed. That nose-in-the-air snobbishness and issues I can't relate to just don't appeal to me. I know for a fact that, even with the intrigue of Liv Ullmann as a director, I wouldn't have cared to watch this film had it not been for the always great Jessica Chastain as the title character.
The play adaptation takes place over a midsummer's night in 1890s Ireland as Miss Julie attempts to sway the long-standing servant John (Colin Farrell) into seduction. We see that John is already committed to servant and cook Kathleen (Samantha Morton) and is hesitant to obey Miss Julie's orders - from kissing her boot to taking her out into the garden. We learn, however, of John's love for Miss Julie started early as a young boy, and dreamed one day of becoming "one of them" behind those castle walls. The seduction escalates, the melodrama ramps up, and tempers flare in pure theatricality. The film does feel long at times with many drawn-out exchanges, but I knew what to expect being a stage adaptation. Staying with only these three characters at the castle for the 2-hour duration may have left some wanting more of a narrative, but it forced you to fully get invested with each of their motives.
Miss Julie is unstable, emotions turning on a dime, and Chastain may have given her best performance yet. Having to be on screen for nearly the entire film, her strong presence and wild range kept us glued to the screen. We were inside of a cineplex theater with an iMax-sized screen, so the many close-ups we get did the film favours. Colin Farrell is also great here who plays off Chastain well, serving as the (somewhat) more grounded of the two. Samantha Morton is left to the side a bit as Kathleen, but she does get her moments to shine which is great to see. [On a side note, seeing Morton and Ferrell together reminded me of the great Spielberg film Minority Report, although I don't think the two share much screentime together in that film?]
This is worth seeing, certainly for fans of Chastain, but more for the great performances and wildly romantic melodrama. It was a shame I was unable to be at the premiere screening of the film to see Chastain (and Liv Ullmann) as well as a Q&A. Instead, all I got here was the TIFF programmer introducing the film calling Colin Farrell "Colin Firth", and the projection lamp failing on a few different occasions early on. They even had to rewind the film as it took a few minutes to fix the black screen. Nothing that ruined the experience though, and I did get surprised quickly seeing Chastain after the premiere of 99 Homes earlier in the week. Three out of four years at TIFF seeing Miss Chastain makes me a happy camper. As she ran to her awaiting car, she waved, smiled, and apologized, even allowing a fan to run up to her to take a picture. Nothing but praise for how she cares for her fans. What more can I say - I'm a fanboy.
★★★★ review by Dara Khan on Letterboxd
August Strindberg's Miss Julie is a story that begins with all the familiar conventions of the upstairs-downstairs drama: the impassable class divide, the long-suffering servants, the haughty baron's daughter who torments them. But over the 133-minute course of Liv Ullman's new film adaptation of Stringberg's 1888 play, those conventions are warped, eroded, and finally destroyed as its intense, multifaceted characters flit between costume drama, ethereal romance, Dionysian tragicomedy, grueling class warfare, sexual awakening, gothic horror and Hamlet.
These characters are given life by a supercharged pair of performances from Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain. In a story that begins a little off-kilter and quickly veers off the emotional rails, often into pitch-black comedy, the commitment of both actors is essential, and they rarely break stride.
It's tempting to call Chastain the standout—Julie is an extremely complex role, a woman with many emotional currents and motivations, neither exactly dominant over the others. Her feelings come hard and fast and often turn on a dime, but as the mire of her circumstances closes in around her she becomes increasingly flighty, even dissociated. Chastain nails most of these emotional beats, but even an actress of her caliber has to brick the accelerator sometimes when her character is Tokyo Drift-ing through such stratospheric highs and oceanic lows. That she manages to pull this off while executing one of the more convincing "period" accents I've heard from an American actor is an astonishing feat of her craft.
Farrell is also pulling off some of his best work as Jean, who is a put-upon servant, and then a feverish romantic, and then a scoundrel, then a man dreaming of higher station, then a man trying to do the 'right' thing, and finally, a servant again, all dreams of higher station gone. Farrell doesn't often get to flex his considerable power as an actor, which made this even more pleasurable and surprising. I also can't forget to mention an excellent supporting role from Samantha Morton, who is just great in everything. Because it's based on a play, and a dialogue-heavy psychosexual parlor drama at that, these actors are given far more to work with than the average studio film.
Ullman's directing is strong and spare, and Mikhail Krichman's cinematography is rich and attractive, despite the action taking place largely in the kitchen and servant's quarters of a country estate. Krichman infuses these spaces with the richness of an oil painting, and Ullman lets her characters be a part of that imagery. This does a lot to cushion what might otherwise be an intensely withering amount of emotion; the film unfortunately careens towards being farcical at times, with characters all but literally wringing their hands.
The ending represents a dissipation of this high pressure build-up, but I'm not sure if it made its final point quite as firmly as it could have. After the sturm und drang of the preceding 2+ hours, the film's revisionist-Hamlet ending feels almost slight by comparison. But the takeaway is still there: even in a world striated intensely by class and social position, and even through the lens of characters governed by many forces (class, gender, libido, the past), the misogyny of a patriarchal world is what clamps down tightest, closes the most doors, stamps out the most life.
★★★★ review by William Tell on Letterboxd
Miss Julie is a film of graceful simplicity and chaotic drama, possessing both an exquisite lyricism in its visuals and a generally formidable plot. First and foremost, the acting carries the film from start to finish, proving to be fundamentally perfect in each and every scene - such is the raw display of emotions from Jessica Chastain, Samantha Morton and Colin Farrell. On the other hand, Liv Ullmann's delicate attention to detail and elegant aesthetic provide a very appropriate classicism as well as an enthralling ambiance, which is brilliantly edited by Michal Leszczylowski. In the end though, it is Strinberg's genius that makes this feature worthwhile - its uncompromising sincerity, groundbreaking social uproar and stunning character development. Ullmann is the perfect person to tackle this type of personal, emotionally draining concepts, not just for her Bergmanian influences, but for who she is.
| Direction: 7,5 | Sound: 7,5
| Screenplay: 8,5 | Editing: 8,5
| Acting: 10,0 | Entertainment: 8,5
| Visuals: 9,0 | Overall Rating: 8,3
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