Koch on film


By Ed Koch

“Notes on a Scandal” (+)

This film provides a magnificent insight into the lives of two troubled women.  One is the beautiful high school art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett).  Sheba is married to an older man, Richard (Bill Nighy), and has two adolescent children, one of whom has Down syndrome.  The second older, unmarried woman, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), teaches in the same school and is a closeted lesbian. 

Sheba becomes infatuated with an attractive 15-year-old art student, Steven (Andrew Simpson), while Barbara is attracted to Sheba, the young art teacher.  Sheba’s relationship with Steven reminds me of Mary Kay Letourneau who seduced her 13-year-old student.  

Dench is always a magnificent performer whether appearing in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, on a British television series, or in films.  My favorite Dench role is her portrayal of the widowed Queen Victoria in “Mrs. Brown.”  In “Notes on a Scandal,” she brilliantly portrays a woman who is cruel and scheming, but has a sympathetic side as well.  Andrew Simpson does an outstanding job of portraying an aggressive adolescent with a winning smile and raging hormones seducing his beautiful teacher, and Blanchett is wonderful in her role as a tormented teacher, housewife and mother. 

The acting is superb, the intimate scenes are performed tastefully, and the movie itself excels in poignancy.  HS, with whom I saw the film, simply said, “This is a really good movie.”

“Pan’s Labyrinth” (+)

On many occasions I have expressed a longing for films devoted to the Spanish Civil War, Ireland and its troubles, and Israel’s battles for survival, because I enjoy historic films about the violent history of our fellow human beings. That is partly why I found this powerful film, which combines a small episode of the Spanish Civil War with a child’s fairy tale, extraordinary.

Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), a member of Franco’s fascist army, recently married a young widow, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), who is pregnant with his child.  Carmen and Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), her 11-year-old daughter from her previous marriage, come to stay with the captain at his ranch in a rural area where he and his men are hunting down loyalist troops hiding in the nearby forest.  We learn early on that Captain Vidal’s housekeeper, Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), is a Republican supporter and spy. 

The display of torture instruments and the torture scenes themselves are chilling and elicited screams from a few in the audience.  Throughout the film, Ofelia talks to mythical creatures who promise her eternal life and a return as a princess to another world if she does certain things.  In the movie, the complex fable is treated as real.  

“Pan’s Labyrinth” is not for the fainthearted or for those unwilling to respond to fairy tales, but if you like to cheer for the good guys (and girls) and boo the bad ones, this is a film for you.  (In Spanish, with excellent English subtitles.) 

HS said:  “The film is a terrifying Spanish version of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ except that Dorothy doesn’t get back to Kansas.  It is so artfully done you have to like it, or at least respect it.