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Date: 16 June, 2005



'In a multi-faith world, producing a blockbuster about the Crusades isn’t a diplomatic move at the best of times.'

Surefish’s film critic Catherine von Ruhland looks at Palindromes and Kingdom of Heaven.

(15) Directed by Todd Solondz

Starring: Ellen Barkin, Richard Masur, Emani Sledge, Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Todd Solondz's Palindromes is a sequel of sorts to his Welcome to The Dollhouse; a warped fairy tale narrating the story of Cinderella from the ugly sister's point of view. Dawn Wiener, the out-of-step protagonist, has since committed suicide, and her funeral provides the opening scenes for Palindromes.

The film focuses on 12-year-old Aviva and her many manifestations, portrayed anachronistically throughout the film. Aviva is pregnant, and after telling her Mum she wants to have as many children as possible, ‘so there’s always someone to love’, she is carted off for an abortion. Sadly, the operation leaves the girl unable to bear anymore children, propelling Aviva towards a journey of self-discovery that turns out to be a kind of palindrome in itself.

Along the way, Aviva meets a host of people, even eavesdropping upon a bunch of pro-lifers who have no qualms assassinating abortionists – indicative of the film’s heavy emphasis on the abortion debate.

The film’s characters all represent types of people that society finds easy to pigeonhole. And in the midst of all this prejudice wanders Aviva, whose only crime is to want a baby.

Interestingly, Solondz has chosen a diverse array of actors to complete the Aviva’s character. In one scene, a boy depicts the journeying Aviva, suggesting that we change, yet remain fundamentally the same person in spite of our experiences.

This realisation is at the crux of Palindromes. For the disabled children adopted by Christian couple Mama and Bo Sunshine taught to sing and dance to 'This is the way Jesus made us', such a conclusion provides strength and hope. But as for the paedophiles of Palindromes that circle Avivas's world like big bad wolves straight out of a children’s fairytale, there’s no such aspiration.

Solondz has carved a directorial niche as a purveyor of bleak soap-opera cinema, with films such as Happiness and Storytelling, which refuse to shy away from the dark impulses of ordinary people. If there is any humour to be found within Palindromes, it is pitch black

Kingdom of Heaven
(15) Starring: Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson.

In a multi-faith world, producing a blockbuster about the Crusades isn’t a diplomatic move at the best of times. And in the current religious climate, it seems particularly bad taste. So it’s no wonder that Kingdom of Heaven received so much hype before it even hit our screens, fuelled by worries that it plays into Muslim extremist notions of a bullish Christian West.

Viewers could have as much fun as some did with The Passion of the Christ, by identifying the groups that director Ridley Scott is taking a pop at. By bending over backwards to avoid the suggestion of any anti-Muslim bias, Scott and writer Willaim Monahan have ended up, ironically, not being fair to the Christians.

Scott depicts the average knight as some kind of medieval football hooligan; the priests harsh and unyielding. Only a small group of knights, who swarm around Orlando Bloom’s blacksmith-turned-knight Balian, dream of peace; of a ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.

This is Bloom’s first leading role. However, his performance is let down by the underplayed background story. Unlike the emotional conveyance from widowers Mel Gibson in Braveheart and Russell Crowe in Scott's earlier Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t give any real sense of the loving marriage, of the loss that fuels Balian's escape to Jerusalem and the fight to save its Christian inhabitants.

Being stood alongside Hollywood heavyweights Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons doesn’t help either.

Ultimately, Kingdom of Heaven represents a call for tolerance as a half-way point between fundamentalist extremes. It's not necessarily Christian (both Irons and Bloom lose sight of God by the end), but this 'third way' of decency, compassion and understanding is entrenched within the Knight's Code of Honour, incorporating respect for 'the other' .