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Critics reviews
Esther Kahn
Arnaud Desplechin France, 2000
Phoenix’s un-suppressible discomfort is matched by the dim lighting, drab interior design and meticulous human honesty driving the drama. Esther Kahn could have been made a hundred years ago and it would still hold some viewers under its weird spell. It discovers a truth about this complicated woman that is, if bracing and less than easy to fully grip, undeniably moving.
October 07, 2015
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Brilliantly edited and gorgeously shot, Esther Kahn is a dream to look at and, courtesy of Howard Shore’s minor chords and high-strung strings, definitely something to hear.
January 16, 2003
It’s a bit unsettling to look forward to a movie so much and then see it live up to every expectation and, at the same time, defy them all. Esther Kahn accomplished this, and ever since I walked out of the theater, alone, feeling as though I should find a park bench and cry for a while, I have been unable to get this film out of my head.
May 28, 2002
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Surely among the most complex and beguiling films ever made about the craft of acting, Esther Kahn examines the tricky interplay between cool technique and hot emotion, and how performance and real life can sometimes bleed into each other. A polished actress might have made the central character more accessible, but the director’s triumphs are hard-won and almost perversely unsentimental.
May 28, 2002
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At 145 minutes it’s a bit of a stretch, but the cinematographer is the great Eric Gautier (“Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train,” “Pola X”) and the score by Howard Shore is far superior to his Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings.”
April 11, 2002
[Desplechin’s] terse, understated narrative style permits an almost voyeuristic examination of the young Esther, filmed with close-up intimacy by Eric Gautier, as she methodically learns her craft and advances her career… The plot device might seem convenient, but it pinpoints the mystery and essence of acting.
April 01, 2002
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Desplechin wants to film an adventure of the human spirit in the manner of a Hitchcockian drama, but he doesn’t have a solid enough grasp of English culture to equal the complexity of his French productions like “The Sentinel” and “The Life of the Dead.”
March 01, 2002
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Esther Kahn is a baffling experience, not because, at nearly two and a half hours, it feels overextended. (It doesn’t, and even has a pleasingly abrupt punchline.) Esther Kahn is confounding because it solemnly advances a daringly preposterous thesis. Acting cannot be acted. This is a movie about the nature of acting—or, more specifically, the nature that creates an actress—centered on what appears to be a spectacularly unconvincing title-role performance.
February 27, 2002
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The film founders mainly on Desplechin’s shaky grasp of English: the dialogue is full of implausible profanity, the director’s brother is less than convincing as a theatre critic, whileSummer Phoenix, shaky accent, awkward intonation, shallow performance and all, never convinces for a moment, let alone as a triumphant Hedda Gabler. Holm and Barber, and Howard Shore’s score briefly counteract the overall clumsiness, but in the end that’s nowhere near enough to save a doomed project.
November 21, 2001
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Could it be about the relationship between the art of acting and self-discovery through action in the larger existential sense? Is it a deliberate attempt to evoke the dearth of complex characters in contemporary film by creating a personage so unpleasant that we can’t help but pay attention to her? Is it about the unimportance of talent compared with the mulish desire to succeed? I’ve seen Esther Kahn twice, and I haven’t come to any conclusions, but I look forward to trying it again.
March 07, 2001
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