Director Sally Potter wrote and directed this story about a young Jewish Fegele Abramovich and her struggle to reconnect to her identity and find her father. The story opens in 1927 in a small Jewish village in Russia where Fegele and her father live. A villager returning from the United States spins stories of how it’s the land of opportunity and that anyone can make a name for themselves. Fegele’s father leaves for America with a number of the other men from the village, leaving her in the car of her grandmother.
Not long after her father’s departure the family’s village is razed during a brutal pogrom. Fegele and some of the other villagers flee the carnage, only to find hardship on the road to safety. Fegele eventually is spirited out of the country, but finds herself utterly alone. Adopted by an English family in the UK, Fegele, newly renamed Suzie (Christina Ricci) struggles to reconnect to her identity.
Music and theatre form an integral part of the story. Before Suzie’s father leaves he sings “Je Crois Entendre Encore” from a Georges Bizet opera to her and its obvious that this musical connection between the father and daughter is strong even from an early age. Later when she is alone and isolated in England, Suzie discovers she can over come her social stigma as an outsider by singing. A teacher from the school accidentally stumbles upon her talent and begins coaching her.
As a teenager she successfully auditions for an opera company run by Felix Perlman (Harry Dean Stanton) that is based out of Paris, France. Suzie is befriend by Russian dancer Lola (Cate Blanchett) who becomes her room mate. Lola quickly ingratiates herself with Opera’s star Dante (John Turturro) as a wayof climbing the social ladder and ensuring a better future for herself. Suzie is drawn to the “gypsy” horseman Cesar (Johhny Depp) who’s brooding good looks, cuts through the scenes when he’s on stage.
The tension quickly escalates as Germany declares war on Poland and before long the thunder of troops are heard on the streets of Paris. The characters quickly realize that their very existence is threatened and do what ever is necessary to stay alive.
Depp’s Cesar provides an interesting counterpoint to Dante who at one point looks down, literally and figuratively, on Cesar and his fellow Romani making music on the beach and declares to his German hosts that their music lacks refinement. Dante only values material wealth and feels that he has earned his status as he has made something of himself whereas the gypsy and Jews are lazy and dirty in his opinion. Meanwhile Cesar values family and community above all else and is willing to sacrifice his life if necessary to defend it.
The ending of the moving is a bit anti-climatic as Suzie eventually does make it to America where she miraculously tracks down her ailing father in the final 10 minutes of screen time.
As far as a Depp movie goes, it was a decent one with Depp turning in a restrained performance fitting of his character and his role in the story. He shines while on screen with all his usual charisma and its easy to see why Suzie is attracted to him, but he does not overwhelm the picture. I enjoyed the movie even more for the subtlety that Sally Porter infuses the film with. Many of the early scenes are lyrical with moving imagery and music without a lot of dialogue to guide or drive the plot. The audience is given time to absorb the story and embrace the characters. Themes of father figures resonate in the film as does the connection to music and the role it plays in the characters lives.
A fairly obscure film of Depp’s but one worth watching if just for the story itself.