The film “Words and Pictures” did not get good reviews. Therefore, I have to assume it is a movie that is called a “chick flick” because I adored this film. Having been a teacher, I can relate to the patter that transpires in the teacher’s lounge, and the main characters Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) and Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) caught the flavor of the palaver and charmed us to no end.
Clive Owen - Wikimedia
I admit to loving words, and so my vote from the beginning was Words over Pictures. But Juliette Binoche provided a great argument for the value of pictures. In fact, she is an artist in her own right and all of the paintings that are shown in the film are her own work.
Clive Owen did a masterful job of championing Words as expressions of human experience. His recitation of works of the great masters was titillating to me, a lover of words, and I basked in his display of intellectual knowledge. Seldom does a movie take note of scholarship and turn it into entertainment.
I mention the two main actors in this respect rather than their characters because I could not separate the charm each one possesses in large measure from their own personae. Their on-screen chemistry was obvious in this, their first film together.
Juliette Binoche - Wikimedia Commons
This romantic comedy has its setting in a prep school in Maine whose students are from wealthy families, are dressed uniformly, and demand the best teachers that can be obtained. Jack Marcus (Clive) has been there for years as an Honors English teacher who also oversees the students’ literary magazine. He has become a bore in the teacher’s lounge by challenging his colleagues to come up with ten and twelve syllable words in alphabetical order antiphonally. They all know him for the alcoholic that he is and for his writer’s block which has prevented him from publishing for many years. His redeeming quality is his care for his students and his ability to get them to think. I was surprised and thrilled that Jack referred to the most beautiful sound in the English language as “cellar door.” I heard this over fifty years ago and never realized it was a universally accepted fact.
Into this scene walks Dina Delsanto (Juliette), the newly-arrived Honors Arts Teacher who is an established painter who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, forcing her to use a cane and to take a teaching job because of her painful experience when she tries to paint. She is totally unimpressed with Jack’s egoism, but steps to the plate with his word syllable challenges.
Abstract Painting by Henry Tayali - Wikimedia
An interesting scene occurs when Jack is asked to leave his favorite drinking spot, the high-class “Huntsman Club” for creating a disturbance to the other patrons for his drinking. He is portrayed constantly with a drink in his hand, or pouring one out of his bottle of vodka. A student had the nerve to ask him why he always ate his lunch in the car. He declined to answer that his lunch was usually his bottle of vodka.
Jack’s son Tony (Christian Scheider), a writer and poet also, had a small but significant part in the film. When Jack learned that his job is on the line, he began to shape up a bit in his work, but offered a poem of Tony’s as his own, to indicate that he was producing again.
To this effect, he also offered to the School Board the possibility of a “War” of Words vs. Pictures where the students would debate the superiority of one over the other. This involved, of course, the consent of Dina, the Honors Art Teacher.
Throughout these capers, Jack tries to captivate Dina whom he always refers to as Delsanto, and she eventually melts from her previous aloof position. He even manages to bed her which is done delicately and not graphically in the film. That is, until he gets drunk at her house and falls on her most recent, still wet, painting. To make matters worse, he admits to her that he has given his son’s poem as his own to display in the students’ literary magazine. These incidents are enough to end the romance beyond redemption.
When Dina takes a medical leave, Jack believes he has caused her to leave her position. In reality, she has undergone a knee operation which improves her mobility and lessens her pain.
Dictionary - Pixabay
The students have agreed to an assembly where they and the two Honors Teachers will debate the “War” of Words vs. Pictures. However, it cannot be accomplished unless the Honors Arts Teacher returns. Fortunately, Jack convinces her to return although she has no intention of renewing their relationship.
Jack’s talk at the debate again enthralls the viewer with his common sense approach to whether words or images are more important to civilization.
I loved the subtle ending. It was the frosting on the cake. I feel sad that some reviewers did not sense the beauty in this film. It seems it was beyond their comprehension.