Thursday, 18 February 2010

Performances of the Decade (Female)

I recently started counting down my favourite (male) performances of the last decade, so on to the females. 2005 was my least favourite year cinematically speaking of the decade, though there were a couple of performances that shone a ray of light on the darkness. Don’t forget spoilers are ahead.
#15 Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener (2005)
The Constant Gardener was a film that I (unlike most) was very fond of. The gardener of the title was Ralph Fiennes playing a character he knows all to well – the introverted English man. Justin Quayle. Tessa begins a tempestuous romance with Justin and travels with him to Africa. Before their journey, though Rachel already establishes Tessa as a formidable woman and as a strong character.
Her first meeting with Fiennes’ Justin is brilliant. Justin, a diplomat, is holding a meeting. He is as a calm as the clich├ęd Englishman and he is surprised and attracted by Tessa’s inhibition. 
Sir, I've just got one question. I just wondered whose map, um, is Britain using...when it completely ignores the United Nations and decides to invade Iraq? Or do you- do you's more diplomatic to bend to the will of a superpower...and-and politely take part in Vietnam, the sequel?
It’s important that this is how Mereilles let us meet her since it’s a major part of her character. Tessa is one of those women we imagine only exists in the imagined world – she completely believe in the greater good and as she debates with Justin about the demerits of diplomacy it’s fascinating to see Weisz’s eyes sparkle. Moreover, it’s also interesting to note how she is so much softer during the quiet moment in between.  There romance is unorthdox, but not unbelievable. Tessa’s journey grows when the two meet Africa. Tessa is a completely free spirit and even though we know that, it always surprises when Weisz burst forth with some discourteous comment on the social affairs in the country. Not even Justin is completely used to her, even though he is the perfect gentleman, throughout.
The scope of the African nation shown is formidable and Mereilles’ use of camera is important here. Moreover Weisz’s sincere chemistry with the African children is beautiful to watch. In fact a favourite moment of mine regards the relationship between them. After losing her child we see Tessa at her lowest. This is not the vigilant woman we’ve come to know and love, but a broken woman. When Justin comes to see her, she’s holding an African new born in her arms. I love her line readings – This one was born healthy, though. Weren't you, my beautiful, beautiful darling? His name is Baraka. It means blessing.
Still, below all its politics The Constant Gardener is a love story, albeit an atypical one. That’s one of the reason the film never fails to impress me. Justin and Tessa’s relationship is not the classic one of romance. He is unable to emote and she is too caught up in her work, and yet the two share true feelings for each other. The quiet moments when Fiennes and Weisz share the screen are beautiful to watch. I always note that Fiennes is never unwilling to give the floor to his female co-stars and Weisz does excellently opposite him.
Rachel Weisz’s task in The Constant Gardener was not simple. She had to create a woman so lovable, yet so infuriating and the candid script didn’t sugar-coat it. It’s so easy to see Tessa as selfish, as annoying but Rachel manages to create a nuanced and brilliant character. Fiennes grounds the latter half of the film, but we really do miss Tessa when she leaves, and that is all because of the excellent work done by Rachel Weisz. It’s a performance worthy of remembrance.
So, were you a fan of Rachel? Or did her Oscar win make you angry?


Twister said...

I thought Rachel really deserved her Oscar -- her layered, ethereal work is great, and its the little moments that make the perf what it is. Such as trying to get each other's clothes off and how they enjoy each other's comapany.

The filmitself felt too plodding and it dragged, but Rachel is the beam of white light that makes it all watchable.

Anonymous said...

Rachel Weisz proved hands down in that movie to be one of the most powerful and talented actors of her generation. Its a tightrope of a performance and she handles it with grace.

With out a doubt, the best Oscar win in the last ten years.

Mike Lippert said...

I think the reason the Constant Gardener maybe faultered with critics and/or viewers is because everyone wanted another over stylized movie from Mereilles in the vein of City of God and this didn't seem to provide it. However, if you look closely the film is just as stylized, albeit in a different way, one that compliments the story better. We live in an age where, maybe now more than every young, ambitious people think that style and story can be discussed as seperate things, which just isn't reality. I think it was Goddard who said something to the tune of how one always gives birth to the other. The style of City of God was easily spottable and therefore tangible, people felt like they could reach out and grab it, whereas Gardener used it's style to set the tone of the film and is, in a way, the better of the two films because of it.

I agree with your Rachel Weisz pick. She was also fantastic in Neil Labute's The Shape of Things and will probably be fantastic in many tings to come.

Can't wait to see the rest of the picks.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

twister i did like the film, but rachel definitely was the light of it.

anon it's not my best, but close to the top.

mike another wise thought. i actually preferred this to city of god which i can admire, but i never really feel invested in.

Castor said...

Not a big fan of the movie but Rachel Weisz was mesmerizing in it. Great pick!