Few plotlines in the history of the dramatic arts tie into themselves quite like “Atonement,” Joe Wright’s period drama born from the pen of Ian McEwan. One of the most sophisticated texts by living novelists, McEwan’s book, full of twists and turns that build up to the indomitable revolution that extends from one point from Christopher Hampton’s screenplay to conclusion. Everything in the film perfectly reproduces the details thought of by the writer, who in “Reparação” (2001, Companhia das Letras) gives the idea of having been transported in time to England in 1935, where he remains for a few moments, but then moves on to another time and other places and progresses a little further, in a bold dynamic of its own for a narrative so sober, that it avoids always corresponding to the public’s desires.
All the comings and goings to which Wright submits his film are somehow permeated by metalanguage. Hampton extracts from McEwan’s text the fragment that, with varying intensity, sometimes almost obvious, sometimes so subtle that it blends into the landscape enhanced by the light and pastel tones of Seamus McGarvey’s photography, guides the plot. “The Ordeals of Arabella”, a play by Briony Tallis, sees the light amidst the movements of the servants for a dinner for ten diners in a few hours.
In this very first act, Briony, embodied with care by an already astonishingly mature Saoirse Ronan, is the one who calls the shots, and, also for this reason, no one feels truly scandalized at the first great upheaval in history. What is truly sublime and appalling is watching how the director works one by one with all the scenic and rhetorical elements presented to him. The impertinence of a bee takes Briony out of the indolent calm with which she indulged in a somewhat disjointed conversation with Lola Quincey, the guest of the Tallis played by Juno Temple. Lola is welcomed with the twin brothers Jackson and Pierrot, by Charlie and Felix von Simson, because their parents are immersed in one of the most rumored skirmishes in English jurisprudence, and perhaps this has some influence on what happens when the character of Ronan, in a rigorous rehearsal for Jo March of “Little Women” (2019), he goes to the window and sees his sister, Cecilia, and Robbie, the property’s handyman, together, savoring idyllic scenes beside a fountain.
Keira Knightley and James McAvoy take charge of “Desire and Atonement” in visible harmony, as if at the wedding ball that Cecilia and Robbie will never consummate. Despite being brought up with everything that parents could find that was the finest, most exclusive and most categorical for the education of a girl a hundred years ago — to reproduce the patriarchal model of wife, mother and housewife, in that order —, Knightley’s girl, Briony’s older sister, sees McAvoy’s underling as she does, a man endowed with will, body and spirit appetites, life, after all (albeit in a light conversation with the youngest, the two lying on a field of flowers in one of the few breaths of a film progressively denser at each shot, one step away from the audience’s exhaustion, Cecilia confides in Briony that she wants nothing more to do with the secret suitor because they are from “different backgrounds”) . Perhaps, again, this somewhat artifical revelation also contributes to the younger sister fantasizing about Robbie’s conduct with his girlfriend again, this time in the mansion’s library, which in turn gives rise to the greatest of ignominies to be which launches the employee, involving Lola and Paul Marshall, the industrialist lived by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Four years later, in the third act of the film, when the three of them, Cecilia, Briony and Robbie, are immersed in the horror of the Second World War (1939-1945) as a form of involuntary atonement for each one of their sins, real or not, Wright sees in the invasion of Normandy the opportunity to unite them again, with dialogues that, as will be seen, are just the fantasy of a reconciliation. More than sixty years later, Vanessa Redgrave, in the role of an elderly Briony, finally clarifies the reason for so much disappointment, so much vocation for unhappiness, remaining subjective in one of the most enigmatic stories ever told, the collected passion of a frivolous woman, of a soul malicious, perhaps repentant, and yet untrustworthy. But not a final reprieve.
Film: Desire and Repair
Direction: Joe Wright
genres: Drama romance