Set in 1930s Shanghai, where a blind American diplomat develops a curious relationship with a young Russian refugee who works odd -- and sometimes illicit -- jobs to support members of her dead husband's aristocratic family.
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Shanghai. 1936. Crossroads of the world and into this city of political intrigue comes Sofia, a Russian Countess who, with the remains of her family, has been left stateless by the Revolution. Forced by her reduced circumstances to support herself and her family as a bar-girl and taxi dancer, Sofia forms a relationship with Jackson, a blind former diplomat who opens an elegant bar; The White Countess. Their curious relationship matures but they are caught up in the fall of the city to the Japanese invaders.Written by
Slow & Relatively-Unknown, But Very Rewarding, Beautiful Film
It took the last 30 minutes for me to fully appreciate this film. That's because the first 105 minutes are very, very slow. If it weren't for the wonderfully rich visuals, I might not have stuck with this story. Obviously, I'm glad I did because the story snapped out of its doldrums and, at the same time, wrapped up everything nicely leaving the viewer (at least, me) very satisfied. But - a warning - as mentioned, you must have a lot of patience to make it to that rewarding conclusion.
I just marveled at the cinematography, the great sets, the muted and beautiful colors that seem to be the trademark of these magnificently-filmed "Merchant and Ivory movies." I am speaking of course, of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, director and producer, respectively. That's a team that will sorely missed by we fans of their films. (Merchant died recently, making this the last of their collaborations.) That collaboration includes writer Kazuo Ishiguro who wrote this movie. These three guys all worked on "The Remains Of The Day," one of my all-time favorite movies and books.
This Ishiguro story is set in mid-to-late '30s in Shanghai. Ralph Fiennes plays a blind American, "Todd Jackson," an ex-diplomat who wants to get away from politics and run the nightclub of his dreams. He has the whole place mapped out in his head. Natasha Richardson ("Countess Sofia Belinskya") is a high-class escort-service-type woman working in a lower-class bar who unselfishly sacrifices her dignity to help support her unappreciative family. Todd and Sofia meet one day in that bar, he is extremely impressed with her, and later hires her to run his new place, called The White Countess, once it's opened. Along the way, Todd meets a Japanese man "Mr. Matsuda," who we find out isn't the altogether nice guy we thought he was, as it's revealed trouble always follows him.
In the end, this drama comes to life as the Japanese overrun the city and everyone flees for their life. Sofia's family tries to leave without her. The countess desperately goes after them because that family includes her precious young daughter. Fiennes realizes, at the last minute, he doesn't want to live life without Sofia and she he tries to find her among all the chaos. It's a very suspenseful ending.
In you enjoy classy-looking films, character that you wind up caring about, and a drama that is rewarding, this is a film not to miss. I'm afraid it didn't get much notice, at least not like the other Merchant-Ivory films, which is a shame. The last I saw, this was mixed in with garbage films selling for $2 at the video store. What a shame!
This is an underrated, under-publicized and beautiful movie.
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