I must confess that when Indy's Heartland International Film Festival announced the documentary Julia as its Opening Night screening, I may have actually shrugged my shoulders a bit.
Now then, I should have known better.
Heartland Artistic Director Greg Sorvig, in his 10th year with the fest, is undeniably one of the best artistic directors in the country and under his artistic leadership the Academy Award-qualifying Heartland has transformed itself artistically into one of the U.S.'s most respected festival experiences.
What a lovely film.
Co-directed by Academy Award nominees Julie Cohen and Betsy West (RBG), Julia is a relentlessly entertaining documentary that beautifully captures the Julia Child with which America fell in love as much for her delightfully engaging personality as her actual cooking.
Child was undeniably America's first true celebrity chef, a quiet yet steadfast feminist who was essential in the growth of the nation's public television system and in turning the nation away from what was rapidly becoming a culture of convenience when it came to food.
Julia saved us, y'all.
As one would expect from Cohen and West, Julia is an exhaustively researched motion picture that weaves together elements of Julia's array of cookbooks, her autobiography "My Life in France," and an abundance of archival footage, videos, audios, photographs, interviews, and just about everything else you can possibly imagine. The film, picked up for a November theatrical release by Sony Classics, is warm and funny and amazing intimate courtesy of Cohen and West's gaining access to Julia's diary entries, personal letters, personal photos, and even Julia's edited manuscript for 1961's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" that took her from a popular public television star to a true household name.
Born Julia McWilliams to a wealthy, conservative Pasadena family, Julia shunned her father's attempts to marry her off to similar wealth by enlisting during World War II where she found herself in the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, as administrative support. It was then that she met future husband Paul, a cartographer with whom she did not share an initial mutual attraction but with whom that attraction eventually grew. This journey is shared humorously in Julia, again incorporating diary notes and personal letters that are endearingly sweet and even more humanizing of the chef with whom we all thought we could relate. They would eventually marry, much to the dismay of Julia's father given Paul's identity as a Democrat, and it would be a journey to France, captured awesomely here, that would plant the seeds for Julia's lifelong love with French food and making fine cooking friendly to Americans.
D.P. Claudia Raschke gives the film an air of romanticism, making us fall in love with Julia a little more frame-by-frame as the lens brings to life Julia's culinary creations and unexpectedly sensual personality.
I must further confess, right or wrong, that I've never quite associated the word "sexy" with Julia Child but Cohen and West bring to life Julia's tremendously charismatic presence and flirty personality all wrapped up in her 6'2" frame and lilting, almost seesaw vocal stylings. I'd dare say that by film's end I couldn't help but see Julia as a rather lovely, sexy human being.
Julia doesn't ignore the more challenging aspects of Julia's life including that aforementioned childhood to her public support for Planned Parenthood to her unquestionable ambition that, at times, allowed her to push aside collaborators as it was absolutely clear that it was her alone with which Americans fell in love. The film also captures Julia's transformations as a human being - this is never more vividly captured that when a longstanding belief that she was homophobic was stripped away when her lawyer died of AIDS and there was nearly nothing she could do. From then on, Julia became an outspoken support of AIDS charities and watching the pre and post-interviews is honestly electrifying.
There is more. Much more. Julia gives much screen time to her marriage with Paul and is never more poignant than when exploring her experiences with breast cancer.
Rachel Portman's original score fits Julia sublimely and it's the inspired work of Cohen and West that frames this story in such a way that it's an absolute joy from beginning to end. Prior to the film's screening at the Toby Theatre at Newfields in Indianapolis in opening the 30th anniversary Heartland International Film Festival, Sorvig proclaimed the film the perfect film to bring everyone back into theatres again.
Indeed, Greg, you're absolutely right.
What a lovely film, indeed.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic