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GUINEVERE

SYNOPSIS:
College graduate Harper Sloane (Sarah Polley) is expected to enroll in Harvard Law School by her socially prominent family. At her sister's wedding she meets photographer Connie Fitzpatrick (Stephen Rea), a charming Irishman thirty years her senior. Intoxicated by Connie's bohemian lifestyle and philosophy, Harper lies to her family and says she has not been accepted into Harvard - deciding to secretly move in with Connie and study photography. Nicknamed Guinevere, Harper discovers that she is the latest in a long line of young and impressionable protégés who have passed through Connie's life. Their relationship begins to falter when Connie's drinking becomes serious and Harper's self-confidence begins to grow.

Guinevere tells the story of a boozy, charismatic photographer in his 50s and his impressionable 21 year-old lover/protégé who's the latest in a long line of impressionable young lover/protégés. In the most devastating scene the girl's mother (Jean Smart) confronts her daughter's lover and asks what he's got against women his own age. "I know exactly what she's got that I haven't" she says, "it's awe". Bang. This brief scene is a brilliant summation of the essence of the relationship between Connie Fitzpatrick (Stephen Rea) and his current Guinevere, Harper (Sarah Polley) . By seeking out lovers in need of direction and inspiration in their confused young lives, Connie plants the seeds of the relationship's ultimate demise by educating them to the point where they realise they have to move on. What makes the treatment of this older man-younger woman scenario interesting is the shadings of its characters. Far from being a dirty old man, Connie does genuinely care for his Guinevere and wants – insists - on her expressing her creative potential. It's about much more than sex for him and he's realistic enough to acknowledge that five years is about their life expectancy together. Harper does not simply fall head over heels for this twinkly-eyed rascal either. She resists, arguing that "you must have mistaken me for someone with potential," before signing on for what she describes as "the best mistake I ever made". Some of the plot developments seem overly contrived and the ending is a sore cop-out but writer/director Audrey Wells has a sharp eye and ear for capturing the moments of need and desire that determine the directions of the heart. Without applying judgment and with excellent performances from Polley, Rea and Gina Gershon, who plays an acid-tongued former Guinevere, she has made something intelligent and affecting from challenging subject matter.
Richard Kuipers

Ever been in love with the wrong person? You knew all along it wouldn’t last, and if you didn’t know, then family, friends, and society were happy to make it all too clear. You ignored them anyway because being in love is intoxicating. The world melts away under the attention of a passionate lover. That’s exactly what happens to Harper, a.k.a Guinevere. Connie gives her all the attention, personal freedom, and artistic expression she can handle, and it’s understandable that she falls into Connie’s tangled web of self-destruction. He’s an alcoholic and a miserable old bastard, but his passion for art is undeniable. “You wait until it hurts so much that you just have to take a photo,” he tells her. And she does. Guinevere is a strange blur of a film that never judges its characters or their motives. Connie is a decrepit but lovable lush with a hangdog expression and a ‘come love me’ sign on his head. Harper is not all that innocent either. She knowingly goes along for the ride, happy to be seduced and to do some seducing of her own. While the film is set in beautiful San Francisco, it fails to capture a single frame of that city’s exquisite beauty. The other Guineveres give hints of Connie’s past, but we need to know more about them and their experiences to fully understand their plight. Stephen Rea is exceptional as the beaten-down, disintegrating artist and Polley delivers the perfect transition between shy girl and confident woman. The finale is elegant if unexceptional. Guinevere is a touching, moody little film that struggles for the emotional impact it so rightly deserves. Just what it’s trying to say remains unclear. 'He was the worst man I ever met…or maybe the best,' Harper explains in the opening credits. I’m still not sure about that myself, and found the filmmaker’s fence sitting frustrating. However, Guinevere is an engrossing tale of star cross’d lovers.
Shannon J. Harvey

Sometimes it is fascinating when the observer becomes the observed. Here the lens is turned so that it is a photographer’s life that becomes a work of art. And a touching love story is complemented by an even more compelling character portrayal. Stephen Rea is nothing short of extraordinary as the self-styled mentor with a ragged bohemian charm. He takes up the challenge of Connie’s complexities—talented and tragic, insouciant and intense, exploitative and generous—and convokes them into a credible and utterly intriguing figure. Not the least because of the interaction with Sarah Polley. It is a treat to see a young actor with such nuance of expression. There is some magic dialogue between the mentor and his muse, yet it is the tacit exchanges and responses added by Rea and Polley that galvanise the dynamic sway of the relationship. Jean Smart too is superb as Harper’s mother, bringing an undercurrent of pathos to a character ostensibly revelling in her upper-middle class milieu but frustrated by its sterility. Her explosive confrontation with Connie is a pulsating scene. Indicative of the film’s great strength of articulating ambiguities it is provocative and open-ended. She challenges Connie with some devastating home truths. Yet the truth is not always the whole truth. Is Connie simply an opportunist, exploiting the idealism of youth, or does he offer something more noble? Or both? Or neither? Is love still wonderful when it is imperfect and ephemeral? Not every picture needs a standard frame and it is a shame that the film tries a little too hard for a tidy ending. It is the only flaw to an exceptionally intelligent and engaging piece of cinema.
Brad Green

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

GUINEVERE (M)
(US)

CAST: Sarah Polley, Stephen Rae, Gina Gershon, Jean Smart

PRODUCERS: Jonathan King, Brad Weston

DIRECTOR: Audrey Wells

SCRIPT: Audrey Wells

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Charles Minsky

EDITOR: Dody Dorn

MUSIC: Christophe Beck

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen McCabe

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 28, 2001 (Sydney/Melbourne)

VIDEO RELEASE: November 4, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment







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