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Oscar and Lucinda

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”In order that I exist, two gamblers, one Obsessive, the other Compulsive, must meet,” Australian novelist Peter Carey writes in the remarkable Booker Prize-winning novel that has become the remarkable film Oscar and Lucinda (Fox Searchlight). Setting his story of risk, fantasy, and social revolution in the wide-open wildness of 19th-century Australia, Carey tells of Oscar (Ralph Fiennes), an odd Anglican minister who finds an unusual soul mate in a young businesswoman named Lucinda (Cate Blanchett). Both are addicted to the thrills of wagering; both are exotic misfits in their worlds. The apotheosis of Oscar’s mad gambles is the construction of an exquisite glass church, an extravagant gift of love for Lucinda and a symbol of all the hopes, follies, and impossibilities of Carey’s tale. But that’s just the climax of a dreamy plot.

In the hands of Australian director Gillian Armstrong (1994’s luminous Little Women) and esteemed screenwriter Laura Jones, Oscar and Lucinda takes on a shimmer of its own; it exchanges the narrative fluidity of the page for visual composition of such strong beauty that the slowness of the storytelling becomes its own eccentric strength. Taking his time, flapping his hands, and, I swear, shrinking his physical self as surely as he let it blimp up in Schindler’s List, Fiennes imbues Oscar with an inner life I never saw from him in The English Patient. And meeting Oscar full on, Blanchett makes Lucinda into the kind of warm-blooded feminist that may be Armstrong’s most important ongoing contribution to the image of women on screen. A- — LS

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Oscar and Lucinda STARRING Ralph Fiennes Cate Blanchett RATED R 132 MINUTES