Friday, February 09, 2007

Notes on Notes On A Scandal

I recently saw Notes on a Scandal about Sheba Hartt (Cate Blanchett) and Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), two teachers in an English public school. Starchy spinster Barbara develops a fixation on bohemian wife and mother Sheba, who cluelessly accepts their fraught friendship and witlessly hands Barbara a loaded gun when she confides her illicit affair with a 15-year-old student.


Barbara is eventually flattened out by the revelation of her very real delusional psychosis and Victorian Sapphic fixation, but the movie is saved by Sheba's beauty. Sheba's beauty is discussed frequently, and is hard to miss - the camera often catches her soft-lit movements in slow motion, as she repeatedly twirls her hair around a finger, and during a scene in which Sheba dances with her eyes closed. She is not a wizened femme fatale a la Lauren Bacall - rather, her beauty is almost a character flaw - Sheba's mother is overheard saying that her daughter has used her beauty to get by, but that she lacks character. Upon seeing her for the first time, Barbara also notes her beauty, and continues to mention it throughout the film with an increasing level of admiration - noting her grace, how she stands out from her family. The 15-year-old student, of course, tells her she's "fit" - not just OK, but "really fit" - during his seduction. He also tells her what she assumes she wants to hear - that he comes from a broken and abusive home. When he is caught in his lie, he insists she had wanted to hear them, and bitterly says the affair was simply "supposed to be fun". Sheba is caught and confused by her beauty, and the film seems to be about the dangers of beauty, its susceptibility to the projected impressions of those that observe and react to it. Sheba, of course, is guilty of cartooning the object of her desire too, overlooking his obvious flaw (he's 15, lady) to see what she hopes is there.

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