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Boo Hoo

The Man Who Cried doesn't engender much sympathy.


Anyone who's ever worked in an art house knows that many customers show up knowing nothing about any of the movies, then demand a refund when their blind choice turns out to be insufficiently "arty."

This week, however, salvation is at hand. The Man Who Cried, an "old-school" art film straight out of a how-to textbook: The movie delivers high culture (opera), actors with accents (Cate Blanchett doing Russian, Christina Ricci English, and Johnny Depp a vague kind of generic European), a period setting (World War II), inoffensive social sentiment (Nazis and other prejudiced people are bad), and of course, lots of costumes. All from Sally Potter, the director of Orlando and The Tango Lesson, no less. If this is what you like, have at it. If not, there's always that movie about dinosaurs eating people.

The first man who cries is simply known as Father (Oleg Yankovskiy), a Russian Jew who sings to his young daughter, Suzie (Claudia Lander Duke, who grows up to be Christina Ricci). When poverty grips their small, snowy village, Father heads to America to make some real money for his family. Then, when anti-Semitism causes the village to be burned down, Suzie escapes on a wagon and gets shipped off to England to live with a foster family that aggressively tries to make her assimilate -- to which she responds with a subdued rampage. Before long, Suzie is a teen with a great singing voice and an English accent, and is on her way to Paris to become a chorus girl, which she hopes is a step in the right direction toward America.

In a case of mixed blessings, Suzie ends up rooming with the annoying Russian blabbermouth Lola (Blanchett). Lola's talent for flirting gets her hooked up with a bombastic Italian opera star, Dante Dominio (a wildly overacting John Turturro), who gets Lola and Suzie small parts in his current stage production, presided over by the eternally amenable Felix Perlman (Harry Dean Stanton). Rounding out the cast of the opera are some Gypsies and their horses -- and wouldn't you know it, one of the Gypsies just happens to be a sensuous hunk who teaches uptight heroine Suzie how to relax by having sex with her. It is, of course, Depp, who seems to have walked directly off the set of Chocolat.

Dante, being the pompous and ignorant diva that he is, resents the Gypsies, especially when their horses defecate at importunate moments. He also likes Mussolini, likening Blackshirt rallies to opera. So when the Nazis come marching into Paris, he immediately makes friends and rats out the truth about Suzie's Russian-Jewish heritage. It's time for Suzie to leave, but only if she can tear herself away from the smoldering Gypsy passion of Mr. Depp.

There's nothing particularly wrong with this whole setup; it's just very by-the-numbers. All the actors do fine with their accents, and although Depp is not very convincing, the other actors are. The problem is that there's no dramatic tension. What matters most about The Man Who Cried is its genre. If you like period films in which actors do accents and learn to feel passion while evading Nazis, you'll find this to be a perfectly competent piece of entertainment.

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