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Portrait Of Jennie
cast: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ethel Barrymore, Cecil Kellaway, and Lillian Gish

director: William Bieterle

86 minutes (U) 1948
PT Film Collection DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Dawn Andrews

We begin in the clouds. Take my advice and treat the opening 'edifying' voiceover with the same kind of incredulous horror invoked by the clod-hopping one added as an idiot's afterthought to Blade Runner - added for no doubt a similar reason, this being that cinemagoers are so stupid (in the estimation of movie executives) they can't be expected to figure anything out for themselves, and must be ponderously led by the nose.
   That being said Portrait Of Jennie is a very odd film, a mix of profound beauty, insight and sentimentality - the cinematography is quirky and exquisite, making the screen resemble a canvas being one highly affective device, as is the slowing down of the film just enough for the voices to seem a half-breath out of synch. This is very disorientating and produces an air of wonderment similar to the one Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) finds himself enmeshed in. Jennifer Jones, who appears first as a child, manages to produce the suspension of belief needed to accept her in all her guises as Jennie grows to young womanhood, over a mere six meetings with Eben. Ethel Barrymore is wonderful as the astute and pensive art dealer, Spinney, who instantly recognises the lack of love that stunts Eben's artistic endeavours, as is Lillian Gish as Sister Mary of Mercy - the silent film tradition both were schooled in stands them in good stead in this film that relies so heavily upon subtle nuances of expression and mood. The end storm, coloured a sickly green, engulfs time and memory, only the interior of the lighthouse is eerily peaceful, the steps winding like the inner chambers of a seashell. The tidal wave that sweeps Jennie away a second time has a demonic energy, like the creative act itself.
   DVD extras: digitally re-mastered picture, plus biographies of producer David O. Selznick, and the stars, photo gallery.
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