Stellar Actors Put ‘Words and Pictures’ Together

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Average: 5 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – “Words and Pictures” is a bit twee. In the film’s central debate between which medium has more influence, there was a drunken writer, prep students straight out of “Dead Poet’s Society” and cutesy romance. But there was also Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche at the top of their performance games, and they uplifted all these regular story elements.

Films about redemption are always welcome, and the two instructors at the prep school representing words (English teacher) and pictures (art) get to redeem themselves through the debate. Despite the number of clichés in the script – by Gerald Di Pego – Clive Owens and Juliette Binoche remain sincere and authentic, which overcomes some the groan-inducing prep school moments. And points have to be given for presenting a story about adults maneuvering in the world, right in the middle of summer superhero season. The film may not end the words versus pictures face-off, but at least it follows through on the presentation.

Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) is a prep school English teacher and writer on shaky ground. His life is kind of a mess – he’s estranged from his only son and has a drinking problem – plus he hasn’t written anything of significant in years. The headmaster of the school (Navid Negahban) gives him fair warning, as a board member named Elspeth (Amy Brenneman) tips Jack that his unconventional teaching methods are putting his job at risk.

Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche
Dina (Juliette Binoche) and Jack (Clive Owen) in ‘Words and Pictures’
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions

Jack’s attitude begins to change when he meets the new art teacher, Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche). She is a name artist who wants to teach, to relieve her difficult physical and depression issues due to rheumatoid arthritis. The two teachers begin a debate over which of their advocations have more power to influence. As a romance blossoms, the debate becomes part of a whole new story for both of them.

The film takes a while to get off the ground. The parameters of the words/pictures stand-off are established early, but it takes a number of scenes – Jack teaching a class, Dina in her art studio – to knock the two sides through your head. But once the story becomes more personal, with a nice montage showing Dina’s struggle with her condition and Jack’s errant relationship with his son, the gears start connecting and the connections start coming.

And of course, there is Juliette Binoche, who can recite the phone book into something savory. This is a different performance from her, away from the more mysterious characters she tends to portray in films. Her Dina is angry about her disease, frustrated that it affects her work (Binoche did all the paintings in the film) and unwilling to let her guard down. This clashes directly with Clive Owens interpretation of Jack, which gives their eventual coming together a different kind of motivation.

The prep school is a bit too much. All the students are “Lord of the Flies” types, either brilliant or misunderstood. There is a bit of a scandal involving a drawing that circulates on the internets, but because the students are so broadly characterized, it doesn’t seem to matter. I’m sure somewhere there are schools like this, but whenever wealthy kids are mixed with education there are certain stereotypes that can’t help themselves – and those are in this script.

Juliette Binoche
Dina with Her Students in ‘Words and Pictures’
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions

The direction of Fred Schepisi (“Roxanne”) is bright and airy, and gives his two leads plenty of room to create their characters. In that meditative montage sequence, countering between the lifestyles of Jack and Dina, and there is some great point-of-view camera work from Schepisi that adds poignancy, especially regarding Dina’s physical frustrations. The conclusion of the film seemed a bit tacked on, but it was acceptable.

There is no debate, “words” rule as an influencer. Of course, I cannot draw or paint, and I have been moved by the simple statements of art’s perspective. It’s about impact and the moment, much like the experience of this film.

“Worlds and Pictures” continues its limited release in Chicago on June 6th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Bruce Davison, Amy Brenneman, Navid Negahban and Valerie Tian. Written by Gerald Di Pego. Directed by Fred Schepisi. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald,

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