Archives For Wuthering Heights

I’ve now seen every short film and feature from UK director Andrea Arnold. There are only six. The short films: Dog, Milk, and Wasp. The feature films: Red Road, Fish Tank, and Wuthering Heights. It’s a body of work that I find nothing less than remarkable. Until very recently the only gap in my knowledge was Arnold’s first film, Red Road. I finally watched it, and my god, it is fantastic. Maybe not as good as Fish Tank, but that would be difficult considering how much I adore that film. Having seen all of these films, I think I can now comfortably say something bold. Other than my undying love for Christopher Nolan…

Andrea Arnold is the best director working today.

Hyperbole? Probably. When there are people like Nolan and Fincher out there it’s definitely big talk. It’s also a purely subjective and somewhat arbitrary thing to say. So let me defend my statement a little. Click to read more

I think I need to preface this list by saying that I hate lists. I’ve discussed this before. I had ranking films. It’s the worst thing ever, and it’s almost always arbitrary. I could labour over my rankings for hours and then be switching things back around the next day. But hey, it’s the end of the year and if I’m going to talk about my favourite films, might as well put them in a list, rank them, and earn some praise and scorn.

(As a side-note, I tried to leave off films from TIFF that haven’t gotten a theatrical release yet, but there are a few exceptions in cases where I really wanted to highlight them.)

Also, I think it’s appropriate now to comment on what kind of year 2011 for film. Well, I think it was a pretty phenomenal year, but also an odd one. There weren’t really any films that stood out as obvious #1s, but I think a lot of that is because there were so many amazing films that were all great for very different reasons.

To give you an idea of just how good I thought this year was, while my top film is pretty well solid, any of the films in my 2-15 would likely have been Top 5 level any other year. In fact, there are a couple of films that just missed my Top 20 from earlier this year that I swore would make my Top 10. It’s been THAT good a year. Anyway…

On to the list! Click to read more

Without a doubt, Andrea Arnold is one of the most talented directors working today. Her previous film, Fish Tank, was a stunning portrayal of coming of age in the bleak for of the British projects. This year, she comes to TIFF with a bold take on a classic novel about unrequited love, Wuthering Heights. To say that Arnold’s adaptation is heavy would be an understatement. The film is downright dark and disturbing at many points. And while I loved the style of the film, and acting, and the myriad observations Arnold makes with her camera, the beautiful moments from scene to scene did not fully overcome the extremely pared down narrative.

The film is not at all a write-off. For fans of Arnold’s work, Wuthering Heights is definitely in keeping with her style. The film definitely manages to be effective within individual scenes, and is especially good during the first hour, which features Catherine and Heathcliff as younger children. That first hour or so is almost completely devoid of dialogue. The narrative is shown completely through the lens of the camera, and Arnold does this brilliantly. We feel the raw, handheld, grainy, 1.33:1 image observing every little detail of these kids’ lives and their blossoming romance. In the darker moments we can feel the dirt and the pain coming right off the screen. Arnold gets so close to everything, and gives us an amazingly natural soundscape that features no musical scoring, with the result being that we can sense everything we see. At some points it’s almost as if Arnold is having us actually smell the air these characters are breathing.

It’s really the second half, in which Catherine and Heathcliff have grown older, that the problems with the film make themselves more clear. First of all, the tone becomes, in places, far more dour and often disturbing. The narrative also begins to pick up, with more drama and more dialogue. But when this happens it becomes clear that the super-spare narrative Arnold has derived from the novel is also the film’s biggest flaw. Whereas the rich character moments of the first half worked beautifully, the narrative of the second half is to slight to properly re-engage with these characters as adults. The result is a film with an ending that lacks a significant emotional punch, even if it delivers in terms of pure cruelty.

Wuthering Heights is an example of pure cinema, but it is pure cinema that doesn’t quite reach the levels of Arnold’s ambition. She brings the extremely modern style of Fish Tank to the period setting of old rural Britain, but in keeping her focus constantly on the thematic development of the characters rather than the plot, she lessens the impact of those themes. It’s a beautifully made film, but it’s flaws hold it back from proper greatness.