Combustible Celluloid
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With: Summer Phoenix, Ian Holm, Fabrice Desplechin, Akbar Kurtha, Frances Barber, László Szabó, Hilary Sesta, Claudia Solti, Berna Raif, Paul Regan, Arnold Brown, Leon Lissek, Ian Bartholomew, Samantha Lavelle, Paul Ritter
Written by: Arnaud Desplechin, Emmanuel Bourdieu, based on a story by Arthur Symons
Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 142
Date: 05/18/2000

Esther Kahn (2000)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

All an Act

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

French critics loved this ode to acting when it opened there in 2000, and Cahiers du Cinema named it the best picture of the year. But American critics seem to find it tedious; I found it endlessly fascinating. Summer Phoenix stars as a poor, introverted Russian-Jewish tailor's daughter who discovers the theater and uses acting as a means to escape her dreary existence. She begins to study with Nathan Quellen (Ian Holm), a fellow actor in one of her productions. He teaches her that one cannot act acting, a hugely difficult and fascinating subject for a movie. Phoenix carries off this difficult role with a potent sleepy sensuality. Arnaud Desplechin directs (in English) and Oscar-winner Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings) provides the excellent score.

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