writer/director Zoë Cassavettes is the latest to make a mark from a famous cinematic family.
Her mother is actress Gena Rowlands (who does a cameo as the main
character's mother.) Father is the respected late
writer/director/actor John Cassavettes. (In fact, Zoë made her film
debut — playing a baby — in her parents' 1971 film Minnie and Moskowitz.)
Brother Nick has also written and directed a few times.
Zoë has inherited the
family's talent for taking sometimes uncomfortably personal looks at the
complicated lives of city-dwellers. Also like many of the films
created by her family, her movie is consistently interesting, artistic and
well done, but not quite as good as it could be.
is the story of Nora (Parker Posey), a career
woman in her 30s who is extremely competent at her job as the social
director of an upscale New York hotel. Her job isn't making her happy
anymore and her love life is a complete disaster.
Not exactly the most
original storyline, but Broken English does have an interesting and
surprising point of view which often saves it from turning clichéd. We
watch Nora go through a series of disastrous short-lived relationships
before she meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud), a charming French man who is also living through a romantic
hell (his girlfriend dumped him after he went to New York to be with her.)
We never doubt for a second
that Julien is the right man for her, but with her inability
to to trust allows him to return to France without her despite the fact that
he invited her to accompany him.
However, the sense of
possible loss forces Nora to completely rethink her life, and in a frankly
slightly over-the-top reassessment of her life she quits her job and talks
her best friend (Drea DeMatteo) into accompanying her to Paris to find her lost
This plan is not exactly
well thought out. She has his phone number — and yet she doesn't
bother to call him to let him know she is coming. When she gets to the
City of Lights, she quickly loses the piece of paper with his number (which
makes no sense because it should have been the most important thing she
brought on the trip — and why didn't she program his number into her cell
Interestingly, this plot
loophole is where the film becomes its most intriguing. In Paris with
no idea how to find Julien, Nora just starts wandering the streets
aimlessly. She has almost no chance of finding the man, but along the
way she finds herself. Nora loses some of the desperate need for a
relationship and learns how to love herself from French people she meets along the way. This section takes the
plot into interesting and
unexpected directions and gives the plot a weight and significance that it
had only hinted at previously.
I'm not sure exactly why
this film was called Broken English — other than to give them a
chance to do a cover of the trés-cool Marianne Faithfull song of the
same name over the closing credits. (Which I suppose is a good enough
excuse.) Yes, there are a couple of awkward gags where Nora
misunderstands words in French accents (thinking "hungry" is "angry" and
"happiness" is "have penis"), but those are just throwaway moments.
Strangely, the film ends on
a very odd note. Broken English uses the exact same last two
lines of dialogue as Before Sunset, another (and frankly, a
better) film with a similar storyline — about an American running into a
French lover in Paris. For the record, the lines were:
to miss your plane."
Fade to black. Roll
credits. Broken English repeats this word for word, action for
Now I'm not saying every
audience in the world will notice this little crib. Hell, giving her
the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Cassavettes wasn't even aware of it.
However, bringing the memory of Before Sunset to mind did Broken
English no favors in my book, it just reminded me how much more likable
and complex the characters in the other film were. Frankly, it was
unneeded, because I liked the film just fine on its own before the
connection was made. It was an unnecessary distraction for an
otherwise interesting film.
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Posted: July 2, 2007.