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IN SHORT: For the arthouse. [Rated [R] ]
One of the reasons August Strindberg's play "Miss Julie" is studied at the collegiate level is that, depending on what you bring into your experience of the play, everyone who sees/reads it comes away with a different reaction. Cranky can't say the same for Mike Figgis' film based on Helen Cooper's adaptation of the play, which is going to be difficult even for those who frequent the arthouses where Miss Julie will find its market. That's no diss on the workmanship of the film; "Miss Julie," in general, is a very difficult play to sit through and its last act, which I won't spill, is particularly unpleasant.
Without making further reference to the Source Material, Miss Julie is a three character play which, at its most basic, is a story of class conflict and manipulation hidden under a dusting of the old standard "while the cat's away..." The Cat, in this case, is the never-seen "The Count," head of the household and father of Miss Julie. The Count has gone off to spend midsummer's evening with his uppercrust friends, leaving Julie (Saffron Burrows) behind to party with the servants. Julie is depressed after a broken engagement, probably to the son of one of the elite whom The Count is partying with. Julie's almost singleminded attention to the Footman, Jean (Peter Mullan) makes his almost fiancee, Christine (Maria Doyle Kennedy) the cook, unhappy. Christine is too exhausted to party. Jean considers himself a level above the common servants and avoids the party, which leaves Miss Julie free reign as Mistress of the House when she finds herself alone (Christine sleeps through much of the story) in the kitchen with Jean.
It's important to know that the setting is 1894, in a time and place where a definite line between "the gentry and the rabble," as the play puts it, exists. That line was not to be crossed, ever -- a dog could sit on the Master's couch, but a servant? Never. Likewise, it would be inappropriate for a servant, say Jean, and a Mistress, say Julie, to be seen together. Which is why the pair end up hiding from the other, drunken, partying servants which leads to the kind of liaison that isn't supposed to happen. It also leads to contemplation of a radical plan to flee the confines of class and place, head for Switzerland and establish a hotel -- Jean's dream -- the ultimate goal being the purchase of a title from someplace "in the East."
It's a fascinating battle of the sexes -- Julie has dominance because of her class; Jean has control because of Julie's weakness for men (this, after being raised by a proto-feminist mom); Christine has power over both of them, for reasons that would tip the story scales if I told. That being said, Miss Julie is a damned difficult piece to get through. Figgis decided not to "open up" the play, and to film it on one set as it would be staged for the theater. Using hand held cameras, his preferred style, the shoot is very close and very centered -- it looks like it's been shot for television, which may have been an economic choice, despite the liberal sprinkling of four letter words in Cooper's script.
Intellectually, Miss Julie is a darn good play. Emotionally, we (Americans) are so distant from this kind of class structure -- nothing we have even comes close -- that there is very little here to help us make any kind of connection. As I said up top, what you bring in will affect what you take home.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Miss Julie, he would have paid...
Rent it as cheaply as possible. If you like, you'll have found a bargain. If not, you won't have lost much from the wallet.
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