White Countess, The

Rating = B-

The first half or two-thirds of this was pretty soporific. The movie definitely had trouble maintaining engagement with the viewer. Also, I was puzzled by Ralph Fiennes portrayal of the American, Mr. Jackson, with speech and to some extent gestures that seemed modeled on James Stewart. On the other hand, I did enjoy the scenes of Shanghei on the verge of the Japanese invasion; it brought back memories of “Empire of the Sun,” which also was a flawed movie but with intriguing scenes of Shanghai at the time.

Strangely, I had overall enjoyable feelings about the film after it was over. Once I wasn't having the sit through it, I appreciated the characters in the Russian family, the Mr. Jackson character and his desire to own and operate the perfect bar to preoccupy his being, the role Jackson's driver in his life and dream, and the character of the Japanese man who shares in Jackson's odd, get-away-from-real-life dream.

My overall good feeling about the film went up even further as I read the reviews of various real critics and what they had to say about the 40 year collaboration of Merchant and Ivory. I agree that this movie is a final, laudable example of Merchant and Ivory's willingness to ignore conventional business wisdom that continually debases movies and instead to make stylish films for thinking people.