The Toronto Sun - June 06, 2000
(TE was featured at the Toronto Film Festival 1995)
Total Eclipse Movie Review
Total Eclipse, an emotionally harrowing movie about a love affair between two degenerate, if brilliant, 19th-century poets, is not for the faint hearted.
And that's even true with the newly edited version, which eliminates several over-the-top scenes that grossed audiences out at the Toronto International Film Festival. One of those moments depicted a man brutally kicking the stomach of his pregnant wife. The film is better without it.
What remains is still powerful and shocking, which it should be. Like another unsparing film, New Zealand's is profound for showing the true interior nature of human nature. The dark side is part of our character. Total Eclipse, directed in English by Polish-born director Agnieszka Holland, sheds light on it with unstinting courage.
It helps mightily that the film stars two acting heavyweights, England's David Thewlis, of Naked fame, and America's Leonardo DiCaprio, who was nominated for an Oscar for What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Both Thewlis and DiCaprio were willing to totally eclipse their own egos to hurtle into the fray of their grim true-life characters in Holland's film. In this case, because Total Eclipse is obviously a tough, European arthouse film that will do little for either actor's commercial career, the dedication to craft is even more remarkable.
The story, which supposedly hews to the historical record except for the conclusion, is set in 1871 in France. Thewlis plays the unhappy poet Paul Verlaine, a talented man who becomes an emotional wreck after he meets and falls in love with a teenaged poet named Arthur Rimbaud.
DiCaprio, in league with Holland in turning Total Eclipse into a modern metaphor for the mad geniuses of rock 'n roll, plays Rimbaud like Kurt Cobain. He exerts a powerful influence on others with his art, then mocks their reactions.
He is abusive to others - especially Verlaine, although he loves him - and even more towards himself, becoming self-destructive. Yet his art rises above the detritus of his life.
This is a worthy path to explore. Holland, whose films include Europa, Europa; Olivier, Olivier, and The Secret Garden, takes the high road with playwright Christopher Hampton's uncompromising script. Although the film is firmly rooted in its own era, it is still a universal truth. What viewers must bring is the courage to watch it.
Thanks a lot to Treggy !