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SAVAGE GRACE (director: Tom Kalin; screenwriters: from the book by Natalie Robins & Steven M.L. Aronson/Howard A. Rodman; cinematographer: Juanmi Azpiroz; editors: Enara Goicoetxea/Tom Kalin/John F. Lyons; music: Fernando Velázquez; cast: Julianne Moore (Barbara Baekeland), Stephen Dillane (Brooks Baekeland), Eddie Redmayne (Antony Baekeland), Elena Anaya (Blanca), Unax Ugalde (Black Jake), Belén Rueda (Pilar Durán), Hugh Dancy (Seth); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Iker Monfort/Pamela Koffler/Katie Roumel/Christine Vachon; IFC Films; 2007)
“Superficial dysfunctional story on the rich.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The chamber drama is based on Natalie Robins & Steven M.L. Aronsons’ fine sprawling non-fiction book. It tells the tragic story of a monstrous socialite, Barbara Baekeland’s (Julianne Moore), a middle-class unstable social climber who married into the Baekeland plastic fortune and had a less than motherly relationship with her son Tony (Eddie Redmayne), which led to murder. Director Tom Kalin (“Swoon”), who cowrites it with Howard A. Rodman, never allows the creepy tale to overcome its shrillness and never gives it enough emotional nourishment to get the viewer more involved in these unsympathetic characters.

It focuses on six episodes between 1946, when Tony was born and lived in NYC and Barbara lived with her distant hubby Brooks (Stephen Dillane), and ends twenty-six years later in 1972, when Barbara’s death took the form of a Greek tragedy.

The insecure Barbara was never able to come to terms with her hubby’s indifference and she fails in her role as homemaker and social butterfly, as she can’t fit into her expected role in society. There are many embarrassing public incidents where she acts strange, always trying desperate ways to throw aside her middle-class origins. Her alienation draws her closer to her gay son, in an unhealthy possessive and incestuous way.

By the time we reach Spain, the twentysomething Tony has become an emotional wreck due to mom’s unwanted attention. The also insecure dad, but for different reasons, is openly carrying on an affair with an attractive young gold-digger named Blanca (Elena Anaya).

The decadent tale never takes hold, though the many chic European locales (Paris, Spain and London) provide some nice scenic change of paces. The period filmmaking is decent but its series of episodes can’t make the film coherent as a whole, as Kalin’s arch direction is never up to the task of making this more than a superficial dysfunctional story on the rich.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”