There’s a very old joke that asks how porcupines mate, the answer being very carefully. Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen exemplify this beautifully, both playing damaged and very prickly characters cautiously circling one another. Owen’s Jack Marcus is a firm believer in the power of words whereas Binoche’s Dina Delsanto espouses the often quoted view that a picture is worth a thousand words. The pair of them pull a Benedick and Beatrice (well, if Benedick was a misanthropic drunk and Beatrice had a defeated attitude spiked with regretful anger stemming from a physical disability), embarking on ‘a merry war betwixt them’ that gets all the students at the school swept up in the excitement. But really, both mediums deal with ephemeral and abstract concepts that are extremely subjective. Amid the salvos and skirmishes of wit, Delsanto walks with a crutch, but Marcus’ crutch is insidiously invisible, as we see him at the beginning of the film pouring vodka into an innocent looking thermos.
The script craftily explores both characters’ demons as well as including some tangential but shrewd plot lines with Marcus’ troubled relationship with his son and a reprehensible act of cruelty directed at one of the art students. Calling this film a romantic comedy is really underselling the vibrancy and agony of this interesting piece of cinema, and there is far too much tragedy involved for it to truly be a comedy. Some of the scenes were hard on my heart and I found myself wanting to shake the characters in frustration because they were so disappointingly flawed. On a side note, all the paintings done by Delsanto were actually painted by Juliette Binoche herself. Marcus paints instead with words and I’ll leave you with one of his assignments for his honors English class: “Give me one sentence that elevates humankind with one image fresh-baked from the ovens of your computer-deadened, shopping mall-suffocated minds.” – BETHANY
For more information on Words and Pictures visit the Internet Movie Database
Photos courtesy of Roadside Attractions, Latitude Productions and Lascaux Films