Miss Julie [1986]

On Midsummer's Eve, in Northern Sweden, noblewoman Miss Julie stays home, perhaps due to the failure of her engagement to a callous man. Instead, she takes part in the servants' wild outdoor dances--but her eye is on her father's footman, John, who is engaged to the cook, Christine. As the exhausted Christine falls asleep in a chair, John and Miss Julie begin a struggle of power and sex in which their social roles are both a weapon and a weakness. Like most of Mike Figgis's films (Leaving Las Vegas, Internal Affairs), Miss Julie is very pretty to look at and the actors (Saffron Burrows and Peter Mullan) are excellent. The movie is adapted from the August Strindberg play of the same name; the theatrical dialogue and speeches don't play all that well in film, but are well-executed, and Figgis finds ways to keep the movie visually engaged: Burrows's height (or Mullan's lack of it) is a visual metaphor for their class standings; at one point Miss Julie cries, and her tears clean a streak in the dust on her face, making her look both clownish and pitiful; the screen splits in two, showing two perspectives of the same scene for a brief time. When the servants return from their drunken revels, John and Miss Julie are forced to hide lest they start rumors, and the servants stagger around the kitchen, singing, grabbing each other, searching thirstily for more wine--the effect is eerie. A strong adaptation of a theater classic. --Bret Fetzer

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