Filled with interesting possibilities
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Sweet is every sound,
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet;
Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro' the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees." Tennyson
Richard Gere on and off the screen may be in a parallel universe where poets,actors,and mystics are constantly looking for eternal answers, especially about the place of a god in the grand scheme. Yes, he has played a gigolo and a bad cop--but in Bee Season as Talmudic scholar Saul Naumann at Berkeley, he is just too slick (Volvo, sports car, tweed jacket with jeans, impossibly cool house, etc.) and shallow.
He shares with his daughter, Eliza (Flora Cross), an interest in Kabala, an ancient form of Jewish mysticism where meditation brings the practitioner closer to God. Eliza, a spelling bee whiz going for a national championship, learns from him about the Kabala idea that letters and words contain magical power. She responds by seeing letters in magical ways too surreal to describe here. This notion about communication could have been more fully explored just as Saul could have been more deeply disclosed; the film is filled with interesting possibilities, but like a losing contestant it never reaches it potential.
His near obsession with her performance turns his son, Aaron (Max Minghelia) and wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche) to bizarre activities: he to the Hare Krishna cult (aided enormously by the angelic Kate Bosworth) and she to petty thievery that seems to reveal a trauma from the death of her parents, whom she may hope to piece together according to his theory. As superior a father/dad as he might be (He cooks, plays with the kids, attends kids' performances), he may also be stifling them to have everyone achieve a more perfect life.
Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel use a kaleidoscope to its figurative limits with stunning visuals and equally well photograph the Naumann world of beautiful privilege. But with all that, the film nowhere comes as close as last year's documentary Spellbound, much less visually accomplished, to showing the delicate layers of need and ambition that surround an engulf contestants in national contests.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com