The Man Who Cried

Starring Christina Ricci and Johnny Depp Written and Directed by Sally Potter no website

IN SHORT: A chick flick stripped raw of any and emotion. [Rated R for sexuality. 100 minutes]

When we last spoke with Christina Ricci, then promoting Sleepy Hollow, she and co-star Johnny Depp were just beginning work on this film. When we asked about it, there wasn't much either could tell us, which might have been a warning. Now that we've seen it, what strikes us is that, for an above the title role, Ricci has or chosen a character that exists to be upstaged by the supporting actors. It is not a name-making performance. Then again, we've seen enough of Ricci's work to know the name without any star turn and she talks with our Paul Fischer about the making of this movie, in StarTalk.

"When you hear the horses coming, run for the woods." Such were the instructions given by Cranky's great-grandfather to his (grand) Aunt Ida, now 99 years old, when she was the baby of the family in Borisov, Russia. We mention this bit of personal trivia because the first location seen in Sally Potter's The Man Who Cried is identified, very quickly and very much in passing, as Borisov. The timeframe is 1927 and there are still a smattering of Jews left in this shtetl suburb, if you will, of Minsk, but not enough for the men of the town to provide for their families. Young Fegele Abramowitz (Claudia Lander-Duke) is left in the care of her grandmother as her father (Oleg Yankovsky) the village cantor and the rest of the men head for the New World. All that she has of her father is a photograph and the genetic inheritance of a great set of pipes.

Then the horses come.

A tiny, scared and very confused Fegele barely escapes with her life (and some gold coins sewn into the hem of her jacket). Though her only English word is "America," the girl winds up in England and is placed with an upstanding Christian family to grow up in. Ten years later, 1937-ish, the renamed "Suzie" (Christina Ricci) is working a chorus line in Paris. She's dark and shy, overshadowed and befriended by another Russian, Lola (Cate Blanchett). Lola is a prototype golddigger and she latches on to Italian opera singer Dante Dominio (John Turturro). Pretty soon, the girls are "legit" in a company overseen by Felix Perlman (Harry Dean Stanton) and Suzie is entranced, for better or worse, by a gypsy (Johnny Depp) who handles animals for the company. Wherever she goes, the picture of daddy goes with her, but that's about the extent of her attempts to track the man down. With the winds of war brewing and Parisians confident that Hitler's ambition lies in the other direction, Suzie follows her friends not knowing who will remain true, when the hammer comes down.

Which brings us to the Third Act and our rule never to spill the twists and turns leading to the climax. We've laid enough clues above that you can extrapolate what could happen, which would be a story that could lead to a whopper of a chickflick-type, gut wrenching conclusion. While the story winds up with the kind of reunion you expect -- OK, we're not subtle about laying clues -- how it gets there is an utter letdown, more in keeping with badly adapted novels than with original screenplays. Potter spends too much time developing Europe as her main playing stage, when all the emotional action is due to happen elsewhere. Add to that a main character whose emotions are buried so deep that they never come to the fore, even when they're supposed to, and what you are left with is a survival story whose moral is "survival is not enough."

Neither is the story construction of this film.

Both Blanchett and Turturro deliver good character turns. Depp works his wordless stare to its limit.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Man Who Cried, he would have paid . . .