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Little Women Movie Review: Dear Uncle Oscar, It Is The Best-directed Film Of 2019



Little Women

Starring Saoirse Ronan,Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, ,Laura Dern,,Timothée Chalamet Directed  by  Greta Gerwig

Rating: *****(5 stars)

To not  nominate Greta Gerwig in the Best Director’s category  is a shame that the Oscars would have to live down for as  long as  they(the Oscars)  and the  male biases that exist in  movie industries all over the world, live.

 Ironically the protagonist  of Louisa May Alcott’s novel  faces such prejudices all her life. In an early sequence  of this  resplendent  adaptation of  a timeless novel, Jo(the incandescent SaoirseRonan) is told by her publisher that her writing needs  to avoid masculine  themes and concentrate  on the heroine  finding a suitable match for herself. 

This is America in the 1860s and  director Gerwig plunges right in there. We meet  the March family of all-women(the father is away at  war) and  immediately fall in love with all of  them, collectively and individually. There is a magical quality to how much empathy and  compassion  Gerwig brings to  the  dining table. 

Each of the  four sisters  is played with a luminous credibility by  actresses who seem the least conscious of  the  burden  of  re-creating a  classic that has been  done repeatedly  in  the past. 17 times , I am informed, though I  am not sure of the number since I haven’t seen all the renditions of  Alcott’s  influential  novel.  From the  screen adaptations that I’ve seen, this one  is  by far, the finest, most supple and energetic, warmest  and  most heartwarming.

 Gerwig uses the  somewhat cramped spaces  in the March home  to  generate  a sense of  familial camaraderie that evokes  envy and  empathy  in us  every  time we see the sisters  bantering and  bickering. The  actors seem to  enjoy a togetherness  born outside camera range. They were one even before Ms Gerwig yelled action.

 What makes Little Women  unique  is  its complete eschewal  of  negative forces. Issues such as  racial discrimination and class distinction are not dwelled  on. Even the theme of  gender bias is  brought  up in a  way that never mocks  masculinity. In fact, right  next  to the March sisters’ home is  a magnificent man-filled  mansion inhabited  by a generous aristocrat(Chris  Cooper) and  his highly eligible grandson Laurie, played by  the  Call Me  By Your Name star Timothee  Chalamet.

I’ve been wary  of  all the raves showered on Chalamet . Until now. In Little Women I realized Chalamet was born to be in a classic  adaptation. His  attitude and responses  suggest a deep attachment and affinity to  an era that’s forever lost. The same is true  of the other actors  in the brilliant ensemble cast. They  all breathe  and exhale an oxygen  that’s  gone with the wind.

And yet the  complex narrative  does not  expend its precious energy in  nostalgia  or regret.There is  a defiant disregard for time passages , with  the  plot  skipping from one episode to another in no chronological order and sometimes reviving incidents  that we thought had been left behind  on the  editing table. Eventually all the ingredients in this  ravishing  ode  to muliebrity comes  together in a triumphant embrace.This is   life the way it is meant to be.

 This is  one film that is designed to seduce  us back for a second viewing to savour the nuances  in the  delicately drawn  performances,  none more so  than  the unbearably   beautiful Saoirse Ronanwho plays Jo with such spirited sublimity. The other  three  sisters , Emma Watson as the conformist  Meg  ,Florence Pugh as the rebellious  Amy , Eliza Scanlen as the dying  Beth  are  exception in their  grasp of  their characters’ ravenous  need  of self-expression.

There are countless  moments  of  heart stopping beauty  in  this  wondrous work  of art. I will pick the one  where  the aristocrat sits on the stairs  of  his  mansion listening to the ailing Beth play the piano that his dead daughter once did. Then there is this shot of  Jo  cradling  Beth in  his  her arms on the beach , the louring skies silhouetting the two women in a a cosmic embrace.

Who is  the real star  of  Little Women? Author  Louisa May Alcott? Director Greta Gerwig? ActorSaoirse Ronan? Or the cinematographer Yorick Le Saux?The  mystery  will linger for as long as the magic of cinema  lives.

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