Kodiak Daily Mirror - Stage and screen Is a picture worth a thousand words
Stage and screen: Is a picture 'worth a thousand words?'
by Bernie Karshmer
Jun 26, 2014 | 23 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) and Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) are seriously damaged people. They are also honors-level teachers at an upscale private school in the film “Words and Pictures” (2013). Jack, in spite of his out-of-control drinking, and irresponsible teaching style, is revered by his wannabe Ivy League students. Jack has a long and diminishing track record at his school. While once a star teacher and writer “Mr. Marc” (a student’s term of endearment for Jack Marcus) has succumbed to the ravages of his drinking problem. He has been banned from a local restaurant frequented by other teachers and families of the boys and girls who attend the school at which he teaches. This banishment is the “frosting on the cake” of Marcus’ inescapable path to discharge from his teaching position. The origin of Mr. Marc’s psychic damage is unclear. One never discovers the tipping point of his alcohol-induced asocial behavior and irresponsible performance as a teacher and citizen.

Dina Delsanto, on the other hand, is a casualty of the rheumatoid arthritis that has ravaged her body. Her stellar career as a painter has devolved dramatically and she has taken a teaching position at the school at which Marcus teaches. As the newbie in the teacher’s lounge Delsanto is targeted by Marcus’ verbal gamesmanship. While she is intellectually able to cope with Marcus’ verbal shenanigans, her spirit is largely broken by her arthritis. Her clear choice is to do her job and avoid extensive contact with Marcus. Mr. Marc, however, has little respect for himself and less for his new colleague.

As time goes on Delsanto exhibits keen intellectual skills and begins to participate in her tormentor’s ill-tempered jousting. This occurs in spite of her rather stern outlook on life in general. Her dysfunctional persona is rooted in a disease that seriously threatens her future as a painter — she has not yet come to grips with the new reality of her life.

To no one’s surprise Jack and Dina develop a serious emotional and physical connection. This relationship is initiated by Marcus’ “war” on Delsanto’s teachings about the superiority of pictures over words. While this argument is rather sophomoric, the students enthusiastically engage in the challenge thrown down by Mr. Marc.

In the meantime Marcus faces the prospect of dismissal from his prized academic position. His literary production has diminished, his alcohol-induced behavior is notorious and a former paramour Elspeth (Amy Brenneman) as chair of the school’s board of directors is initiating dismissal proceedings against him. Jack is in real trouble. His performance review involves interviews with fellow teachers — he gets mixed reviews from many. Strangely, his most positive comments come from his adversary Delsanto.

While the outcome of the Marcus/Delsanto “war” is the seeming central focus of the story, the development of their personal relationship is the real stuff of this wonderful film. Their physical relationship includes the most maturely depicted, non-libidinous, bedroom encounter imaginable. The immediate lead-up to their bedroom scene is charming and a fitting portrayal of the evolution of love and desire between two emotionally bruised people.

“Words and Pictures” suffers from a bit too much wordplay. Nonetheless, the film presents some fascinating, complex and stimulating conversation and rhetoric. See the film — Owen and Binoche are flawlessly cast and directed.

Bernard A. Karshmer is a professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. He is a past chair of the Denver Film Society and International Film Festival and currently chairs the Denver County Cultural Council.

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