Dirs: Scott McGehee,David Siegel US. 2005. 104mins.
Makers of hand-craftedindividual items rather than mass-produced merchandise, directing partnersScott McGehee and David Siegel have built a career on the unpredictable. Theirmuch admired, low-budget indie drama Suture (1993) was eventuallyfollowed by The Deep End (2001), an icily elegant re-imagining of theMax Ophuls film noir The Reckless Moment.
Four years on they haveturned to the Myla Goldberg novel Bee Season, charting a family incrisis and the diverse paths they take towards spiritual enlightenment. An odd,intriguing tale this never quite builds towards a satisfying conclusionalthough it remains consistently engrossing.
The combination of talentsand unusual subject matter should hold enough interest to attract a selectarthouse audience.
Set against the backgroundof the National Spelling Bee championships made familiar from the documentary Spellbound,Bee Season focuses on 11 year-old Eliza (Cross). The self-effacing,underachiever in a family of bright talents, her unexpected success in thechampionships makes her the new apple of her father's eye.
Saul (Gere) is a professorof religious studies. His son Aaron (Minghella) is neglected as Saul starts totutor Eliza. Fascinated by the kabbalah, he is convinced that Eliza's specialability with letters could allow her to achieve the kind of heightenedawareness that might allow her to achieve shefa and communicate with God.
In his obsession, he failsto notice that Aaron is seeking his own path by joining a hare krishna groupand that wife Miriam (Binoche) is increasingly absent from the family home.
Bee Season builds a very subtle sense of unease. Saul seems towant the best for his children but also appears controlling and tyrannical.Miriam and Aaron exchange anguished looks, constantly wary of how Saul willreact to events.
The smiles are too strained,the life is too perfect and we suspect that some deep, dark secrets are waitingto be revealed. Flashbacks reveal Miriam's distress at the death of herparents. Aaron takes communion at a Catholic service and then meets harekrishna follower Chali (Bosworth).
The first hour of the filmpasses and the need to discover what happens next is very compelling. Thattension begins to slacken as the film unloads more of its complex plot withoutspelling out exactly what we want to know.
In the end it remainsmysterious and elusive and there's also an element of magic realism in some of the events Eliza experiences when sheheads to the National Spelling Bee finals.
Ultimately, Bee Seasonis too esoteric and cerebral for mainstream tastes but there is no denying theskill of its execution or the quality of the performances.
Despite the stellar names ofGere and Binoche, it is the younger actors who dominate. Max Minghella provesto be a promising new talent as the sensitive Aaron and Flora Cross has none ofthe crowd-pleasing affectations of a typical child star. Instead, her grave,sullen look and solid performance completely serve a character who proves to bethe only one with an understanding of what could bring a fragmenting familyback together.
Bone Fida Productions
Bee Season Productions
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal from the novel by Myla Goldberg