by Drew Martin
Yesterday I watched Words and Pictures, a romantic comedy set in a private high school in Maine in which a disheveled, middle-aged English teacher declares war on a demanding, middle-aged Art Honors teacher. Conceptually, the war is between words and pictures, and which has more impact. The battleground is the works of the two teachers and their students but it affects the whole school and it energizes the complacent kids to dig a little deeper in their minds and hearts. Unfortunately, the movie itself doesn't get very far beneath the surface of the topic because it is too general, safe, and obvious. At times it seems like it is trying to be Dead Poets Society; some references are blatant. None-the-less, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a summer watch and appreciated the attempt.
Both of the teachers are past their prime. The English teacher, played by Clive Owen, is a "drunken, art-wrecking bastard" according to the Art Honors teacher, played by Juliette Binoche, who he calls an "ice-cold bitch." His belligerency and inability to write a decent poem again is paired with her disabilities from rheumatoid arthritis.
One nice aspect of the film is that Binoche does more than just dabble at the easel. In one of the more dramatic painting scenes she lays her belly on a swivel chair and paints with the swing of the rotating seat. In another moment she uses a huge brush that hangs from a boom and has a counter weight. The setup is after a painter friend: Fabienne Verdier but all the work in the film is by Binoche.