The sight of the glass church floating on a river barge ranks high on any list of memorable metaphors.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Oscar and Lucinda" is director Gillian Armstrong's unconventional view of the world of two endearing eccentrics. There's a lot going on here: a feisty woman rejects traditional Victorian life; a repressed minister finds his soul. Ms. Armstrong dips lightly into colonialism, religious dogma, and feminism, while surrounding her themes with surpassing natural beauty that allows us to sit back and soak up her story. And what a tale it is.

Oscar (Ralph Fiennes) grows up under the mean hand of a God-fearing father who allows no hint of pleasure to taint their lives. Punished for tasting pudding, Oscar, with a child's pure truth, says, "It did not taste like the fruit of Satan." It is an insight that will serve him well.

Studying for the ministry at Oxford, the phobic, jittery Oscar remains as lonely as he was as a little boy, until he meets young Mr. Wardley-Fish (Barnaby Kay), a polished socialite who introduces him to the race track. His winnings unlock a gambler's passion that he reconciles merrily with his occupation by giving his winnings to the needy.

Lucinda (Cate Blanchett), on the other hand, grows up in Australia with a mother who celebrates her daughter's independence. "Lucinda's a proud, square peg," she says. With the confidence so often born of stability, Lucinda uses her inheritance to start a glass factory and then goes to England for supplies. She will return to Australia on the ship "Leviathan."

Oscar, who believes the Australian outback is the place where he might finally fit, has chosen that ship as the vessel most likely to protect him from his phobia of water, especially the ocean. Hunkered as far below deck as possible, he ventures topside only to hear confession from the lovely young passenger who, it turns out, is a compulsive card player.

Ms. Armstrong, betting correctly that we are already enchanted by her gamblers, stages the meeting beautifully and draws wonderfully subtle reactions from her performers as they discover their common neurosis. The majestic Australian wilderness becomes a player as the film unrolls, full of vivid images. The sight of the glass church floating on a river barge ranks high on any list of memorable metaphors.

This strange story gains its loft from Gillian Armstrong's vision and direction, and its momentum from its stars. Cate Blanchett is luminous as Lucinda. Her smile lights the screen, while her expression says she has a rich inner life. She has that rarest of things: mystery.

Ralph Fiennes is a master creator of character. His Oscar is a fidgety prisoner of his own anxieties and contradictions. Timid and brave, repressed yet alive, this is a man who is surprised when joy sneaks up on him.

The movie is thoroughly illogical. And yet, Blanchett and Fiennes have created such out-sized characters that when, in mid-film, they bet their bundles on the church, the gambler within us fairly screams, "Here take mine too!" They have made a loony story sing.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h11m

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