Emily & Metronom
By Marc Glassman
Frances O’Connor, writer & director
Starring: Emma Mackey (Emily Bronte), Fionn Whitehead (Branwell), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (William Weightman), Alexandra Dowling (Charlotte), Amelia Gething (Anne), Adrian Dunbar (Patrick Bronte), Gemma Jones (Aunt Branwell)
Alexandru Belc, writer & director
Starring: Mara Bugarin (Ana), Serban Lazarovici (Sorin), Vlad Ivanov (Biris), Mihai Calin (Father), Mara Vicol (Roxana), Andreea Bibiri (Mother)
Emily Bronte is one of the great enigmas of literature. How did an unworldly and presumably virginal figure in 19th century Yorkshire write the dark and passionate Wuthering Heights? And yet, Emily Bronte did.
Frances O’Connor’s film Emily is the latest effort to dramatize the great author’s inner and outer life. We first see Emily in a reverie, lying alone in the British countryside’s rolling hills, before quickly returning to a family that is as mysteriously brilliant and other worldly as she is. Each of her siblings, the novelists Anne and Charlotte, and brother Branwell, is creative and cares about what will become of their strange sister. But what motivates Emily to write the disturbing poetry and prose that will make her immortal?
At their curate father’s insistence, Charlotte and Anne attempt to make a go of it as teachers with moderate success but Emily and Branwell turn out to be utter failures. A large part of the film is taken up with the complicated and very emotional relationship between Emily and her brother, an alcohol and drug abuser, who was never a good writer or painter. In one of the finest scenes in the film, Branwell says good bye, and hugs Emily through sheets hanging on a line.
The most problematic element in the film is the creation of a love affair between Emily and the parish’s new associate curate, William Weightman. As portrayed by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Weightman is likeable enough, but if he was interested in any of the Bronte sisters, it was Anne, not Emily. O’Connor doesn’t claim that having Emily in a love affair with Weightman is based on fact; she merely wanted to put romance and, let’s face it, sex, into a story about the most ardent Bronte. But this romantic subplot feels forced and artificial.
O’Connor comes closest to the mystery that is Emily Bronte in an extraordinary scene where the sisters use a family heirloom, a mask, to play an after-dinner game where you can impersonate anyone from Cleopatra to Queen Elizabeth. Emily puts on the mask, and in a vivid portrayal, becomes their dead mother, terrifying everyone in the room. Charlotte speaks of her as the “strange one” and that’s Emily, unknowable and beautiful.
Kudos must go to Frances O’Connor on her first directorial effort. As an actor, O’Connor is best known as Fanny Price in Patricia Rozema’s wonderful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. This accomplished filmmaking debut bodes well for her future. O’Connor’s choice for the lead in Emily is inspired. Emma Mackey, who made a splash in the TV comedy Sex Education, is wonderful as Emily Bronte. Mackey has the looks and rhythm of a film actor, not a TV star. She is brilliant and enigmatic as Emily Bronte and should have a future in cinema. As for the film, Emily is enjoyable but doesn’t really come to grips with the most enigmatic of the Brontes.
In the film Metronom by Rumanian director Alexandru Belc, we’re in 1972 Bucharest at a time when the dictator Ceausescu was beginning to impose truly restrictive laws in the country. We never see the dictator but his presence is felt as we follow the love life of Ana, a 17-year-old who is miserable because her boyfriend Sorin is leaving soon to join his brother in Germany. Ana tells Sorin that she won’t attend a party that night held by her best friend Roxana but she changes her mind and goes anyway.
In an extended and beautifully realized scene, we’re plunged into the world of the early Seventies in Eastern Europe as a group of fun-seeking middle-class kids dance to songs by the Doors and Janis Joplin broadcast on Radio Free Europe’s Metronom program, hosted by Rumanian dissident Cornel Chiriac. The teens decide to write a letter of support to Chiriac, which Sorin will deliver to a friend who is a French journalist. All too soon, Ceausescu’s police arrive, arresting all of them for sedition.
Metronom’s beat turns relentless as the kids are made to sign confessions before being let go the next morning. All sign except for one—Ana. She refuses even when her law professor father comes to the police station and begs her to confess. Finally, even she crumbles under the interrogation of a truly professional security officer but we appreciate her strength of character in a frightening situation.
In a brilliant move, director Belc leaves the ending unresolved. What will become of Ana and her friends? Will they become spies for Ceausescu?
Metronom is persuasively acted by Mara Bugarin as Ana and a group of young performers who truly make you feel as if you’re watching naïve hippies, who, by the way, could now be their grandparents. The power of politics in Eastern Europe in that period was harsh and all encompassing. In reality, the radio announcer and programmer Cornel Chiriac was murdered by Ceausescu’s Securitate in 1975.
Metronom is a brilliant film, which brings back an older time, when politics was terrifying in different ways than they are now. Alexandru Belc deservedly won a Best Director Prize for it in Cannes last year. His film is definitely worth seeing.
Listen to the audio version of Marc’s reviews below:
To learn about advertising opportunities with Classical FM use the link below: