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Sunday, June 8, 2008

THE WHITE COUNTESS (2005)

Somehow, after REMAINS OF THE DAY/'93, the James Ivory/Ishmail Merchant films lost their footing. That film was based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, and this, their final completed film as a team, is from his original script. It caused little stir, but in its peculiar manner, it’s not without charm & a certain lunatic interest. The time & place is 1930s Shanghai, shortly before the Japanese occupation. Ralph Fiennes wants to create the perfect international bar/hangout. (RICK’s in Casablanca would seem to be the template even though that film wasn’t out yet, but no matter.) He finds the perfect hostess in impoverished Russian Countess Natasha Richardson, but barely has time to enjoy his private club when war breaks out and he must sail off to Macao with his little Jewish tailor friend . . and with the Countess. But not before helping her retrieve her daughter from the prideful family she unswervingly stooped to support when times were tough. And if all this doesn’t sound quite goofy enough for you, add in the fact that Fiennes is a blind, disillusioned American diplomat. It's a stretch.

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