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‘Man’ lets seasoned cast shine

Potter’s sweeping drama set against backdrop of war-torn 1940s Europe

When dreams are pursued, nothing else matters. Historical events of titanic proportions can pass by the focused individual with all the substance of illusion and everything must take second place when one’s eyes are on the prize.

When the dream is realized, though, what then? What can fill the emptiness of the now-awakened? “The Man Who Cried” is a film built on the foundations of such soul-searching.

In 1927, a dream is foisted upon young Fegele, played by Claudia Lander-Duke, and her existence is altered forever.

A single word she recognizes amidst the incomprehensible Yiddish her beloved father sometimes speaks — “America” — has power enough. America promises freedom and money for all; it also calls her father to its shores thousands of miles away.

Soon enough, Fegele is left with little more than her dream of meeting Papa again in that faraway land.

Fleeing purges at home, she is brought to England, where even her name is taken away.

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Her single possession, a photo of her father, is confiscated by foster parents. Her language is replaced with the queen’s. “You’ve got to learn to fit in,” is the lesson taught in school.

Ten years later, the re-christened Susan, now played by Christina Ricci, tries to eke out a living with her angelic singing voice in Paris, all the while stashing francs for her trip to America.

Her brash fellow dancer, Lola, played by Cate Blanchett, takes “Suzie” under her wing, instilling her with key French vocabulary — we’re not talking menu items here — and her “rules of how to get men.”

Said gotten men are introduced into the plot more or less simultaneously.

Dante Dominio, played by John Turturro, is a golden-tonsiled tenor with all the finer characteristics of the model prima donna.

Mysterious gypsy — ah, is there any other on-screen kind? — Cesar, played by the incomparable Johnny Depp, here looking like a slightly ragged combination of his roles in “Don Juan de Marco” and “Chocolat,” is more serious even when his mates are partying heartily.

From here, the story of these four is played out against Europe’s darker historical moments, a time when “Jew” became a four-letter word.

Each of these characters acts as a sounding board for the fear that haunted the continent with the dreaded Nazi threat.

Susan finds herself taunted for her status in a religion she never practiced and Dante literally prays for the Germans to win the war so that he may continue singing.

Russian Lola and Romany Cesar fear for their families while forced to contemplate their own aimless existences.

Each of this well-accomplished quartet of actors fills their roles nicely.

If ever there was a thespian born to play a part of doe-eyed quietude, it’s Ricci — even not taking her sometimes-dodgy British accent into account.

Unless of course, it’s Depp, whose screen presence continues to remain at peak level. Harry Dean Stanton even kicks in a decent showing as a theatrical director.

The real winner here, however, is director Sally Potter, also responsible for “Orlando” and “The Tango Lesson”. Hollywood star power aside, the film’s silences speak volumes and the dialogue-free bits are among “The Man’s” best.

While so many directors are busy filling in every frame of celluloid with throwaway lines or thumping score, Potter allows a glance to tell the story, the juxtaposition of opera and horror to advance the tale.

As for Susan, the woman seeking closure 60 years before the term became en vogue, there is a resolution guaranteed to leave few dry eyes. And dreams?

The point in this film is that sometimes we chase them and sometimes they chase us.


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