Memoirs Of A Geisha (2005)

(In theaters, February 2006) Saying “I wasn’t bored!” is the very definition of faint praise, but expectations ran low for this historical drama seemingly more concerned with cinematography and costumes than intrigue or suspense. The trailer itself just looked like a bunch of fancy images. And yet director Rob Marshall should be given more credit: He doesn’t lose any time in making this story of female servitude become interesting: Power plays, historical re-creations and a good sense of plotting all make this a far more interesting tale than it first appears. Ziyi Zhang is fine as the lead character, but it’s Michelle Yeoh who steals the show as her mentor. The film is hardly perfect, of course: The third act feels superfluous (though the sense of dread in seeing all of those American faces suddenly invading the screen is very effective) and the film often gets caught up in its own aesthetics. Then there’s the very real and uncomfortable idea that this film is all about a form of female exploitation, and that’s difficult to forgive even with the historical context. But even though the film may not arouse more than minor admiration for its lush set design and costumes, it’s not a bitter pill to swallow. There are certainly worse films on the Oscar-nominated list.

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