Reviews & More: Melancholy And Joy

Rachel Weisz as the titular protagonist in “My Cousin Rachel.”

“My Cousin Rachel” (in theaters)

How does Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 historical romance/mystery hold up today, and how does this film version compare to the 1952 production with Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton? 

A little creaky around the edges, to answer the first question, and as for the second, Rachel Weisz single-handedly makes the current film a must-see. 

Set in the Cornwall highlands at the end of the 19th century, this tale of a young man (Sam Claflin) seeking revenge on the woman he is sure murdered his beloved cousin/adopted father is all about “did she or didn’t she?” Is he an unreliable narrator or can we embrace as the truth everything he sees and feels? 

Weisz’s portrayal of Rachel is luminous, mysterious, ambiguous. Is she the warm, generous, loving woman she appears to be? Or is she faithless, cold and calculating, capable of murder yet one more time? Is our hero in trouble or delusional?

The film is gorgeous to look at, with a fine supporting cast of British actors etching indelible portraits, no matter how small the role. But it is Weisz’s picture; she glows from within, only we’re not sure if it’s womanly warmth or hell-fire.


“Wallander” (streaming on Netflix)

Originally shown on PBS, the 12 episodes of Henning Mankell’s brilliant mystery series are now available on Netflix. If you tend to depression or melancholia, I strongly suggest you not binge-watch the entire series in one day. I say that with tongue in cheek, but not firmly, because if ever there was a culture whose artistic output looked at life as bitter, unfair and hopeless but which slogged through it anyway, it’s the Scandinavians. Think on it: Ingmar Bergman, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” trilogy, the currently popular mysteries of Jo Nesbro — all of them gifted, creative, fascinating. But given to smiling a lot? No.

That being said, the series, starring a sterling Kenneth Branagh as the titular character, is terrific. Kurt Wallander is a police detective in the small town of Ystad, Sweden. He not only solves crimes — and does so with insight and a furiously strong inner code of honor — but is dealing with a raging artist father (David Warner, excellent) who is slowly slipping further and further into dementia, a daughter he loves very much but has difficulty connecting with and a bad track record when it comes to his love life. Even so, the fine scripts present a fair amount of humor and collegiality with co-workers, complex mysteries to solve and stunning vistas of bleak skies and wind-pummeled wheat fields. Also, Branagh is at his best. 

I highly recommend “Wallander,” both the series and the books themselves, not just to mystery buffs but to all who appreciate well-done dramas that do not insult our intelligence. 


“If You’re Not in the Obits, Eat Breakfast” (HBO)

This HBO documentary, conceived and narrated by Carl Reiner and featuring him, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear and Dick Van Dyke — all of them well into their 90s — celebrates humor and long life. 

In their cases, and in the instances of the several more nonagenarians shown here, they are blessed with good genes, a healthy lifestyle and, most of all, upbeat attitudes. They still feel of use to others and to the world; they still exercise; they still love. There is a 100-year-old woman who does pushups, a 95-year-old yoga instructor, another who runs marathons — slowly, needless to say, but still … They are, all of them, amazing.

I couldn’t help thinking, though, as I watched it, that those without a good health plan, without multiple resources both financial and personal, would have a hard time being this cheerful as they age. Just a thought for us all as life expectancy grows with each new generation.