Cate Blanchett in ‘Paradise Road’

After last week, we stay with Cate Blanchett during WW2. This time as an Australian nurse in a Japanese internment camp who becomes part of a voice choir with her fellow prisoners of war in Paradise Road (1997). Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience.

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What is the film about?

From IMDB: A group of women who are imprisoned on the island of Sumatra by the Japanese during World War II use music to relieve their misery.

Who does Cate play?

Susan McCarthy, an Australian nurse who finds her strength in the internment camp. 

How is Cate introduced?

Immediately, the first of the cast to appear. Dancing with a soldier at the ball in Singapore that opens the movie. They are dancing to “Mad about the Boy” as the shelling starts around them. 

When did it come out?

April 1997.

Box Office: Domestic = $2MM      Int’l = Not available

Critical Response: Metacritic : 48                RT: 48

With Frances McDormand as prisoners of war in Paradise Road.
They have four Oscars between them: Cate Blanchett with Frances McDormand as prisoners of war

Topics discussed:

  • Sort of a forgotten film. After watching, do we know why?
  • One of Cate’s early roles. Does the star quality appear?
  • The Chicago Film Critics gave her their most promising actress citation so at least one group noticed the potential.
  • All star cast; we discuss the performances of Cate along with Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, Pauline Collins, Jennifer Ehle and Julianna Margulies.
  • Bruce Beresford – interesting director or not? Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Double Jeopardy (1999), Crimes of the Heart (1985), Tender Mercies (1983) are his most well known American movies, broke out in Australia with Breaker Morant (1980).
  • Though the film is about a group of women, the film divides them in a few silos of two thus undercutting the dramatic tension.
  • Critics really came for McDormand and her accent, only a month after her Oscar win.
  • The movie is about a voice choir but that’s not revealed until more than 40 mins into it. 
  • Is it humorous? I wasn’t expecting a dick joke. There’s even a retrograde naked cat fight. Yet the main story is somber and serious.  The tone is all over the place.
  • Some reviews mentioned that this coming after Schindler’s List (1993) made it redundant.
  • The one non white character in the internment camp is killed off first and early. 

Scenes we liked:

  • Swimming after the shipwreck, looks gorgeous. 
  • Cate’s scenes with Frances McDormand as her mentor. 

Film within context of Cate’s career:

1997 was the first year for Cate in cinema with this film, Thank God He Met Lizzie and Oscar and Lucinda released. Next year she’ll become an international star with Elizabeth.

Seeds and All
Cate Blanchett as Australian nurse Sarah McCarthy being tortured in a Japenese internment camp during WW2

What reviews said of film / Cate:

Blanchett’s performance was not critiqued in the few reviews I found online.

“In trying to keep track of everybody while providing enough melodrama to sustain an atmosphere of controlled terror, “Paradise Road” stumbles all over itself and never really finds its center. If “Paradise Road” had an extra half-hour to develop its characters, it might have amounted to something more substantial than a series of disconnected little dramas. But despite the strong ensemble acting (Ms. McDormand’s caricatured doctor is a surprising exception), the characters never become full enough for us to care a great deal about who survives and who doesn’t.”Stephen Holden, NY Times. 

“Told this story, and that it was true, you would think it would be enough for a screenplay. But would you be correct? I didn’t want “Paradise Road” to be a melodrama–a “Great Escape,” say, or “Stalag 17” in which the sound of the music distracts from the digging of tunnels. There is not even the possibility of escape, because they are on an island in the middle of a sea controlled by Japan. We realize early on that prison life, within boundaries, will remain much the same until the film’s end. But what the movie lacks is a story arc to pull us through.” – Roger Ebert.

“Every character can be written off with a shorthand description, since none strays beyond a sketch.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW.

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Cate Blanchett in ‘The Good German’

For this episode we visit with Cate Blanchett among the ruins of 1945 Berlin in Steven Soderbergh’s re-creation of a 1940s melodrama, The Good German. A film and performance we consider to be Blanchett’s most underrated. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest Megan McGurk, host of Sass Mouth Dames podcast.

Click to listen:

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Follow along, The Good German is available on Vudu.

What is the film about?

While in post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference, an American military journalist is drawn into a murder investigation which involves his former mistress and his driver. They knew each other before the war, and now she is his driver’s mistress. What a coincidence or is it? There’s a murder investigation, deep secrets about what happened during the war that the characters carry with a great deal of shame.

Who does Cate play?

Lena Brandt, a German “stringer” caught in the chaos of post WW2 Berlin, holding a deep mystery about what she went through during the war.

How is Cate introduced?

6 minutes in, out of the shadows and into the light center screen. Great intro reminiscent of how 40s stars were introduced. Though just before that she’s shown body, no face in bed with Maguire.

What year did it come out?


Box Office: Domestic = $1.3MM     Int’l = $4.6MM

Critical Response: Metacritic : 49    RT: 33 

Blanchett and Clooney in Berlin, built on a soundstage in LA

Topics discussed:

  • Blanchett’s performance as the center holding the film. The baton is passed from Tobey Maguire who opens the film to Clooney and finally to Blanchett revealing the story as hers.
  • Soderbegh set out to make a film that looked and sounded like an old studio picture, but without the old studio prohibitions so sex and profanity. Using period camera lenses and sets, attempting to mimic the classic studio style, through deliberate editing patterns and fairly restrained camerawork.
  • The film is notorious for how it completely failed; both with critics and audiences. We examine why. Was it because it was in black and white? The high stylization and deliberate pace? The not-so-happy ending?
  • Cate leans into exaggerated gestures and fluid theatrical body movements. 
  • Cate’s look, dark hair, red lipstick against the period black and white cinematography might be the best she’s ever looked on screen.
  • Obvious homage to Casablanca (1942), particularly the ending set similarly at an airport. Even the poster was a direct recreation.
  • Because of the obvious allusions to Casablanca (1942) this performance was compared to Ingrid Bergman’s, other critics mentioned Marlene Dietrich, citing Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948). We also talk about Dietrich in Dishonored (1931) and Bergman in Arch of Triumph (1948). Cate acknowledged screening many 40s movies.
  • Her chemistry with George Clooney. Playing illicit doomed lovers, the screen must smolder if the bond is to be believed. 
  • George Clooney – he loves Cate but their luck in movies is bad. See also The Monuments Men (2013), another WW2 story. His performance is anti-leading man since he’s being constantly beaten up.
  • Our excitement about Cate in Nightmare Alley and how well suited she’s to the part of Lilith Ritter.
Clooney, Blanchett and that blue dress

Scenes we liked:

  • “I survived,” gives Cate the chance to play a range of emotions. 
  • “You can never really get out of Berlin,” romance and longing.  

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Two years from her first Oscar win for The Aviator (2004), Cate was busier  than ever in 2006. She also had Babel and Notes on a Scandal released within weeks of this film. In an interview with NPR she apologized for “being very present at the moment.” 

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“a vamping Cate Blanchett, recalls Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s postwar heroine Veronika Voss by way of Carol Burnett.”- Manohla Dargis, NYTimes.

“With dead dark eyes, a dramatic slash of a mouth and a sullenness that encases whatever is left of her heart and soul, Lena is a vivid, if not exactly unique, creation, and Blanchett soon all but disappears into the forlorn, desperate character. She summons shades of Dietrich, to be sure, but brings Lena fully to life, at least to the extent she has life left in her.” – Todd McCarthy, Variety.

Clooney, Blanchett, Maguire and Soderbergh at the LA premiere December 2006

Promotional work:

Blanchett told Reuters, “I had to use my own resources and invent my own version, because what was the point of imitating Marlene Dietrich, she does it perfectly herself.

In an interview with The Guardian, she said of the film: “It’s quite Brechtian, and the emotions are handled in that Forties way. There’s no introspection in Forties films unless it’s expressed externally, and that was really challenging. It’s not melodramatic, it’s what people do. Often, George [Clooney] and I would say, ‘Whoa, that felt eggy’ – it felt like you’ve got egg on your face – and Steven said, ‘If it doesn’t feel eggy, you’re not there.’ We just had to go for it.

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