"Castle" Actress Captures Moral Integrity
by Ari Armstrong, November 19, 2004
Recently I saw two obscure films on video that surprised me. While neither film comes close to my list of favorites, both presented strong and interesting characters.
I Capture the Castle
I Capture the Castle has one central virtue: the character of Cassandra, played by Romola Garai. None of the other characters is that interesting, but Cassandra is a moral force.
The story, briefly, is this: a family has lived in an English castle since the father wrote a highly praised novel. But the father's typewriter has been silent for many years, reducing the family to poverty. Cassandra's sister Rose is desperate for a better life. Then two brothers arrive, and they are both eligible and wealthy -- their family owns the castle.
A love pentagon develops. Cassandra faces heartbreakingly difficult choices as the romantic ties develop. To maintain her integrity, she must be honest with herself and courageous in her actions. Meanwhile, Cassandra watches nervously as her father flirts with another woman and continues to beat his head against writer's block. The subplots are frankly a distraction, but Cassandra and her choices make the film worthwhile.
The Barbarian Invasions
This Canadian French-language film manages to surpass its flimsy premise. A leftist, philandering college professor contracts a terminal disease, and his family and friends join him for his final days. Sounds depressing as hell, but it's an energetic and even inspiring affair.
The joy of the film is the professor's son, a wealthy businessman engaged to a gorgeous antiques dealer. His ambivalence about his father gives way to growing respect. He's a get-things-done sort of man, and it's nice to see a capitalist portrayed in such sympathetic and complex terms.
One of the professor's former lovers has a daughter who is able to obtain illegal drugs for the dying man -- because she is an addict. The heartfelt interactions between her and the father and son constitute the most poignant subplot. The actors are uniformly brilliant.
Several political themes emerge. First, the socialist medical system is prone to bureaucratic abuse -- and, worse, indifference to the suffering of patients. Second, the war on (some) drugs prevents some people from getting medicine they need, even as it fails to solve the problems of addiction. Third, euthanasia, which, by its roots means an easy death, seems appealing in some cases.
Most remarkable is that the film addresses these difficult political, social, intellectual, and personal issues in the context of a story driven by strong characters. The film is reflective but not preachy. A more joyous and optimistic film about death probably doesn't exist.