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HSG
14th January 2006, 21:47
<br><i>(Four asterisks = our highest rating)</i>

Have you ever wondered what movies would be like, if Western culture had not been shattered in the 20th century, and if the Romanticism of the 1800s had been allowed to flourish?

The newly-released film <i>Tristan & Isolde</i> provides the answer. And once you see this masterpiece, the principal question that you will ask yourself is, <i>"Why don't they make movies like this more often?"</i>

The most surprising this about this film is that not simply that it is a great motion picture (as many readers <a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/board/showthread.php?t=176" target="_blank">expected</a> that it would be), but just how magnificent it really is.

<i>Tristan & Isolde</i> now takes its place with <i>Last of the Mohicans, Braveheart, 13th Warrior,</i> and <i>Troy</i> as works that exemplify the Aesthetic Restoration in cinema--faithful depictions of the aesthetics and values of Western culture, prior to the modernist takeover.

This film makes absolutely no concessions to present-day sensibilities by anachronistically interjecting modern attitudes and modes of behaviour into previous centuries--as so many recent period films have done. Rather, <i>Tristan & Isolde</i> is blessedly free of any political revisionism, ideological engineering, or self-conscious irony; and, as a consequence, it successfully transports the viewer into a world with thoroughly different beliefs and convictions than our own.

The story is profoundly moving, easily surpassing any previous Hollywood "love stories" (even those that were produced during the glory days of silver-screen cinema), and it amply demonstrates why this ancient tale of a valiant knight and his fair love remains one of the most enduring sagas in Western literature.

But there is more to this film than just romance. In fact, it specifically examines the clash between romantic love, and higher principles such as honour, loyalty, duty, and nationalism, and it resolves this conflict in a noble and distinctly unmodern way.

It is also, at times, a rousing action film, and offers an astonishingly convincing portrayal of medieval combat.

But by far the most remarkable element in this film is the breathtaking actress Sophia Myles, who--in the role of a lifetime--plays "the fair Isolde" so perfectly that she seems to have been born for the part. Sophia may not be full-figured, but her gorgeous facial features more distinctively exhibit the roundness that epitomizes timeless feminine beauty than do those of most plus-size models. And although she is not even remotely plus-sized, her figure is nevertheless exquisitely soft and natural.

Indeed, "natural" may be the best adjective to describing her supernal beauty. She is unlike any modern, artificial-looking Hollywood starlet, and instead exhibits the attractions that would have confirmed her as the fairest of fair maidens, in any century prior to the twentieth. If Sophia resembles any other actress, it is Kate Winslet in her younger years--but Sophia is far more gorgeous than Kate ever was, even at the peak of her beauty. She is at once an ethereal angel and a flesh-and-blood woman. True to the period, she wears hardly a trace of makeup in the film. She doesn't need any. Her unembellished luminescence is spellbinding, and at times, it is all that the viewer can do to prevent himself from audibly gasping, or sighing--so wondrous is her allure.

(Sadly, none of the publicity stills from the film give any indication of this, so you will simply have to see the film for yourself, to have the assertion confirmed.)<p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/forum/sophia01.jpg"></center><p>Sophia's divine loveliness is perfectly complimented by the film's captivating environments. No landscape in the world could have provided a more perfect backdrop for this story than the emerald-green splendour of the Irish coast. At times, the natural daylight makes the water glisten, and the effulgence bathes Sophia's heavenly features in a celestial light, as if the entire world around her existed solely to pay tribute to her unimaginable beauty.

The sets in the movie are more convincingly medieval than those of any other film to date, equalling the environments of <i>Braveheart</i> and <i>The 13th Warrior</i> in sheer believability. Anyone who has toured Europe's suriving medieval castles will be astonished by the authenticity of this film's constructions. But while <i>Tristan & Isolde</i> meticulously recaptures the look of Europe's Gothic Age, it also endows it with an undeniable aesthetic appeal, showcasing its atmospheric and haunting beauty to full effect.

The wardrobe is similarly convincing, and the contrast between the rugged grandeur of the male costumes, and the gorgeous but authentically historic gowns that Isolde wears, is fascinating. The wardrobe's colour schemes are especially well thought-out, and because actresses with fair features such as Sophia Myles's are rarely seen in cinema, this film provides anyone who is interested in such things with a rare opportunity to see precisely which colours best compliment peaches-and-cream complexions and fair tresses, such as hers.

And incidentally, whoever styled Miss Myles's hair for this film deserves an Oscar for their work, because Isolde's hairstyles are quite simply the most gorgeous that have ever been seen on film.

Period movies invariably boast exemplary photography, but the cinematography in <i>Tristan & Isolde</i> is simply awe-inspiring. Many of the scenes in the film are so beautifully composed, that they can be considered works of art in their own right. The influence of Pre-Raphaelite paintings is unmistakable, and the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic has never been realized as well on film as it is here.

The acting is generally quite strong, and admirably subtle. Once again, Sophia Myles provides the standout performance, by creating a character who has tremendous depth of feeling, and is profoundly feminine as well. Sophia's Isolde exudes passion and ardour, along with irresistible vulnerability, and, most captivating of all, a helplessness before her own desires. Myles presents Isolde struggling to keep her surging emotions in check, creating a tension in the character that involves the audience at the deepest level. In fact, Myles's Isolde may well be the most archetypally feminine performance that the cinema has ever seen. Note also the remarkably effective portrayal of King Marke by Rufus Sewell, and the unexpectedly solid depiction of Tristan by James Franco.<p><center>* * *</center><p>We happened to view this film yesterday--on opening night--and the audience in the cineplex was largely composed of teenaged girls. But much to our surprise, this turned out to be an especially felicitous environment in which to see the movie. Although the generation to which these young girls belong is entirely disconnected from the legacy of Old World culture, and has been inundated by the sensory overload of music videos and coarse television comedies, this film nevertheless touched them deeply. To our utter astonishment, at certain points in the movie, there was nary a dry eye in the theatre. We overheard heartfelt, tearful exclamations such as, <i>"This is so sad"</i> (as if it to say, <i>"I have never felt such a genuine emotion in my entire postmodern life"</i>). Also, the aesthetic wonder of the film was not lost on them, for we also overheard comments such as <i>"Ohmygod, that's so beautiful,"</i> when the fair Isolde is seen floating down a river in an open boat, decked out in a white ceremonial dress.

This experience taught us an important lesson, and brought us to a realization that we might otherwise have doubted--i.e., that even within the breasts of today's younger generations, culturally-deprived as they are (thanks to their upbringing in a heritage-denying society), there still beats the Romantic heart of their Old World forbears. And all it takes is a work of art that is artistically honest, and pure, and moving--as this film is--and those feelings can still be accessed, and those timeless values revived.

Romanticism is not dead. It still slumbers in the human soul, ready to thrive once again, if one can only find the artistic elixir that will bring it to life.<p>- <a href="http://www.tristanandisoldemovie.com/showtimes/index.html" target="_blank">Perfunctory official movie site, with showtimes</a>

M. Lopez
15th January 2006, 13:04
I saw this movie last night, and I agree with every word. It's one of the best films I've seen in years.

On his web site, Roger Ebert posted a very thoughtful and favorable review that's worth reading:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060112/REVIEWS/60110005/1023

My only regret is that there's been hardly any advertising or support for this movie. Ebert suggests why, and I suspect he's right:


"The movie is better than the commercials would lead you to believe -- and better, perhaps, than the studio expected, which may be why it was on the shelf for more than a year. Distributors who are content with the mediocre grow alarmed, sometimes, by originality and artistry: Is this movie too good for the demographic we're targeting?"


I also appreciate the fact that he refers to it as an "action romance," which is a good description, and that he singles out "the beautiful Isolde (Sophia Myles)" for praise. He also compliments the great acting ("the actors don't ratchet up the emotions but try for plausibility") and the believability of the film ("The knights and ladies don't look like escapees from a Prince Valiant comic strip, but like physical, vulnerable, survivors of the conflicts left behind by the Romans").

He also says that it's "a story as tragic (and less contrived) as the one cited in the ads, 'Romeo and Juliet,'" and while I love Shakespeare, I agree that R+J is overrated. This is the better and more moving story. I loved every minute, and I simply hope that people see it. They'll be astonished at just how good it is.

Emily
16th January 2006, 02:06
The one and only minor criticism that I can possibly make of this otherwise flawless movie is that the score could have been stronger. I recognize why the filmmakers chose not to use Wagner, but the soundtrack in nevertheless not quite as engaging as that of other historical films.

But other than that relatively trivial point, it is a perfect film -- and a completely fulfilling cinema experience.

The Sophia Myles fan site where I found those screen captures has posted some of the critical praise that the actress's performance as Isolde has garnered:

http://sophiamyles.org/projects/movies/tristan-isolde

The reactions ("apple-cheeked"; "luminous, radiating passion, beauty") suggest that her untimely look is winning over many a modern eye. I'm still amazed at how closely she resembles Kelsey Olson (who would look lovely in a photo shoot inspired by this film).

But speaking of web sites, I'm deeply disappointed that the movie site is so spartan. The Troy site was created in conjunction with an exhibit at The British Museum, and featured an extensive visual history of the artistic interpretations of the Iliad, from Homer's time right up until the 20th century. Tristan and Isolde certainly deserved a similar treatment -- and I'd like to think that almost anyone seeing this movie would wish to learn more about the many versions of the eponymous saga.

Chad
16th January 2006, 18:26
The movie stills may not do Sophia justice, but I found a short online interview with her and her co-star, and in it, she looks absolutely stunning. She's wearing a beautiful sleeveless dress, and while it's true that she's not full-figured, she definitely has a softer figure than any of those synthetic Hollywood bone-racks. And her complexion is so fair. She's too pretty for words.

<object width="600" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/6PqKD5xpPFU?version=3&amp;hl=en_US&amp;rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/6PqKD5xpPFU?version=3&amp;hl=en_US&amp;rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="600" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>

Because the movie is in limited release, I had do some searching online before I found a theater that was screening it. I hope to go sometime during the next week. I'm really looking forward to it.

Kaitlynn
20th January 2006, 08:23
The movie sounds wonderful. I hope to see it this weekend.

I think the director, Kevin Reynolds, also deserves a lot of the credit for its success. I really enjoyed his adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo a few years ago, and now that I think about it, his version of Robin Hood had a pretty authentic medieval look too, even though it had a lighter tone than Tristan & Isolde, which sounds more intense, based on the preceding comments. I can't wait to see it.

HSG
8th February 2006, 04:22
<br>We would strongly encourage anyone who saw the film, or anyone who is considering doing so, to read Kirsten's post about <i>Tristan & Isolde</i> at her "Bacchante Files" Web log:

- <a href="http://thebacchantefiles.blogspot.com/2006/02/tristan-isolde.html" target="_blank">"Tristan & Isolde": Past and present</a>

Kirsten offers a fascinating overview of the history of this timeless tale, along with her own impressions of this rare example of Romantic movie-making in the present day.

We do not wish to quote extensively from her compelling and delightful essay, because her comments are better read in context, but this statement in particular caught our attention:<p><blockquote><i>"Sophia Myles was a breath of fresh air with her healthy, Irish country-lass looks (instead of being yet another <strong>tanorexic</strong> starlet)."</i></blockquote><p>"Tanorexic"? We had never heard this term before, but isn't it a perfect description of the appearance of 99% of today's synthetic celebrities? And isn't a fair-featured, soft-figured beauty such as Miss Myles (or, for that matter, the most popular plus-size models featured on our Web site) such a refreshing change from the monotony of this Hollywood standard?

Oh, and be sure to visit the links that Kirsten provides at the foot of her post. The last link in particular connects to a lovely Tristan & Isolde fan site that was directly inspired by the movie.

Who says that Romanticism cannot be revived? It merely requires an aesthetic elixir to bring it back to life--and humanity along with it . . .<p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/forum/sophia02.jpg"></center><p>(Screen capture of "the fair Isolde," from this wonderful film.)

MelanieW
16th April 2006, 05:01
I just wanted to let all the Tristan & Isolde fans know that the DVD is coming out next Tuesday, April 25th. I cant wait! I hope it has many extras. I loved seeing this movie in the theatre because the Irish landscapes are so stunning, but it will be nice to watch it in private at home, too. At least this way, there wont be any distractions from audience members. And there are a few scenes that I am probably going to watch over and over again.

By the way, theres a really gorgeous image of Sophia Myles on her fan site, from an upcoming magazine layout. Its in a really beautiful, natural landscape, and she has a spring of blossoms in her hair:

http://sophia-media.org/photo/displayimage.php?album=164&pid=17268#top_display_media

She looks SO much like Kelsey Olson! All I could think of when I saw this was, "I hope Kelsey gets to do a layout like this someday". That would be truly breathtaking.