Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

November 15, 2005 > Tri-City students buzz in Bee Season

Tri-City students buzz in Bee Season

Praveena Raman

A father who is a professor of religious studies at Berkeley, a biochemist mother, a bright and talented teenage son and a daughter who is a spelling bee champion seems like a perfect recipe for a model family. On the surface this family puzzle appears ordinary but then the pieces start falling apart - strengths become weaknesses - and slowly eat away at the links holding the family together.

Based on the award winning book of the same title written by Myla Goldberg, Bee Season attempts to visualize deep ideas of mysticism, an inborn gift, psychological disorders, religions and cults. On many levels, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have succeeded in this attempt. The East Bay setting of the movie is captivating and local residents will get a thrill seeing familiar landmarks and views.

The depth of the story is a drag on the movie, though there are some redeeming strengths. Richard Gere as Saul Naumann, the busy dominating father steeped in Judaism, is in his element. His strong acting coupled with Juliette Binoche's lifelike portrayal of a brilliant scientist, Miriam Naumann who has mental problems, carry the movie to its heights. Newcomer Max Minghella as Aaron Naumann, the teenage son, who moves from the center of his father's attention to the fringes and feels neglected as his sister takes the spotlight, puts in a solid performance. The strong bond and affection between brother and sister is beautifully portrayed throughout the movie. It is a pity that 10-year-old Flora Cross as Eliza Naumann - around whom the story revolves - appears to be in a sad trancelike state from the beginning of the story. The movie might have been stronger if she had evolved from a lighter demeanor befitting a 10-year-old into a sad, trancelike state as she realizes the burden of her gifted talent and is indoctrinated into Judaic mysticism by her father.

The directors have done a fine job creating visuals connecting key elements of the story. For example, seeing her daughter (Flora Cross) spell difficult words in the District Spelling Bee with her eyes closed, her mother asks Eliza, "What do you see when you close your eyes?" When Eliza is spelling "cotyledons" in the state finals, seedlings are shown sprouting and growing all around her. The use of a kaleidoscope is perfect to depict shards of glass that keep forming new patterns as the Naumann family's equilibrium shifts and changes. The California State Final Spelling Bee scenes are special and exciting to Tri-City residents Mekala Raman, Karthik Raman, and Karen Joshi as they appear on the screen as Spelling Bee contestants.

Many loose ends and unanswered questions left an unsettled feeling as the movie ended. Not having read the book, it is hard to say whether this is a drawback of the story or the movie. The artistic nature of the movie and the strong performance by its principal characters makes it worth seeing.

Bee Season opens Friday Nov. 18 at the Cinedome Fremont in Fremont and the Century 25 in Union City and is rated PG 13.

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