Far From the Madding Crowd @ The Ross

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) and Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts)

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) and Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts)

Thomas Vinterberg directs Far from the Madding Crowd, his film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel of the same name. Set in 19th century Victorian England, the film centers on the friendship of sheep farmer Gabriel Oak, played by Matthew Shoenaerts, and the headstrong farmer Bathsheba Everdene played by Carey Mulligan. Mr. Oak (as Bathsheba calls him) trusts that his and Bathsheba’s friendship has matured and his economic station is firmly established. When he gathers some courage, he asks her to marry him. She politely declines, offering the excuse that she has no interest in marrying him nor any man. As fate would have it, however, each character’s fortune twists in ways that neither could have anticipated. Mr. Oak’s fortunes turn for the worse. His sheep dog drives all of his herd over the cliff and, thus, he has to give up his farm and seek work with Bathsheba, who, by contrast has inherited a vast acreage of farm land plus a mansion. She attracts three suitors: Sgt. Francis Troy, played by Tom Sturridge; William Boldwood, a monied landowner played by Michael Sheen; and, of course Mr. Oak. His admiration of and devotion to Bathsheba never wavers; and he admirably measures his feelings when asked by Bathsheba for his counsel on matters of the farm and the heart, even though some consultations are strained and do not work in his favor.

Mr. Oak works the land.

Mr. Oak works the land.

Charlotte Christensen’s cinematography is Oscar worthy. Her panoramic photographs will lull you to sleep as she sweeps across the English countryside. Her depth of field portray the expanse of the land; her character close-ups pull you into the intimacies of moment. You will feel the isolation from the madding crowd and you will sense the urgency of the management of the farm and people through her lens.

The performances by Shoenaerts and Mulligan make for stalwart bookends to Vinterberg’s project. Mulligan shines as she produces a very independent Bathsheba but is sure not to overplay her character’s strong will. Yes, she is financially independent; yes, she is a good manager of people and land. Yet Mulligan has her character recognize people and situations that she cannot control while still maintaining her self-respect AND her money.

Bathsheba surveys her land.

Bathsheba surveys her land.

Throughout ill-fortune and economic gain; nature’s wrath and smile on the land; and, love, marriage, and even murder, Mr. Oak remains as sturdy as his name implies. When he falls into financial ruin, Shoenaerts plays him as a dispirited yet confident sheep herder who, no matter the trial, has a healthy investment in his own worth. When Bathsheba sometimes acts out in arrogance, he dismisses her disrespect; one time he quits the farm rather to be subjected to Bathsheba’s unwarranted whims. No, he is not a man for whom to feel sorry; rather, Mr. Oak is so confident in his farming skills that he believes another place of employment awaits him without question no matter the circumstances. By the same token, Shoenaerts’s Mr. Oak carefully minds his station in the full realization that being gainfully employed brings about comfort in economic stability–not to mention self-satisfaction.

Far from the Madding Crowd is a well-orchestrated film that not only illustrates the intensity of love and desire; in addition, film director Vinterberg and cinematographer Christensen have delivered the beauty of the work ethic. We are given scenes of farmhands tilling the soil and loving it! We see those who work with their hands relish their work, and celebrate a good crop with a good drink and a song. Those were the times …

Far from the Madding Crowd plays through June 25 at The Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center.

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Black Souls @ The Ross

Luciano (Frabrizio Ferracane) seeks solace at the altar

Luciano (Frabrizio Ferracane) seeks solace at the altar

We all have relatives and friends who have chosen paths in life that would make angels fast and pray. We cannot help them nor their situation; some Bible scriptures command us to love them, and we do or at least we try to love them, but from afar. Yet, no matter how much we distance ourselves from them, there is something about the biological hook-up that will cause their life choices to interrupt, if not traumatize our own. Before we know it, we are swept up into a whirlpool of something or other. Life as we have known it never will be the same–ever.

Members from the mafia try to restrain Leo (Guiseppe Fumo)

Members from the mafia try to restrain Leo (Guiseppe Fumo)

Such is the tragic predicament of Luciano in Francesco Munzi’as dark and brooding film Black Souls. I’ll get the obvious out of the way: On its face, Black Souls is a gangster film but without all of the slick glitz we have experienced in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Munzi, still, carefully interlaces within Black Souls the usual gangster film elements: there is a Godfather Rocco, played with dark worry by Peppino Mazzotta; the good-natured brother Luigi, played by Marco Leonardi, and Leo, Luciano’s hot-headed son ready to come-of-age, played by newcomer Giuseppe Fumo.

The Funeral

The Funeral

Director Munzi makes a filmic turn by setting the story between two worlds: the cosmopolitan city of Milan and the mountainous more remote region of Africo. Luciano, played by Fabrizio Ferracane, is a humble goat farmer in Africo. He has painstakingly distanced himself and his family from life in an underworld whereby his brothers have built a lucrative drug business in Milan–or so he believes. His occupation pales by comparison, and Leo, his 20-year-old son whom he has raised among a herd of goats, rejects his father’s world and turns to the sleek and monied environment of his Uncle Rocco and Uncle Luigi. Thus begins the conflict; thus begins the sorrow; thus begins the torment–all wrapped up into a package delivered to Luciano’s threshold. When that package is unwrapped, there is a descent into madness; what is even worse, no one in the family places a hand on Luciano’s shoulder to help him move through his grief. And that, my friends, is the black in the soul of this film.

Black Souls is a tender story about the powerful force of family. That no matter if you move to heaven or to hell to be away from those who threaten your sense of the world, by some means … in some fashion … what they do or have done will find a way onto your own doorstep.

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Black Souls plays through May 21st at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Welcome to Me also plays thru May 21st at the Ross.

Watch for in-depth Film • Television • & More reviews & commentary.
In the meantime, catch a film, share the Popcorn, and feed your soul!

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