Shot in Prague by Danish director Susanne Bier in 2012, Serena is only now slipping quietly into cinemas internationally. Clearly, it wasn't exactly what the producers hoped for, but it's unlikely to be ignored for long, because it features Jennifer Lawrence in a role that puts a new spin on her well-established persona.
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In Depression-era North Carolina, the future of George Pemberton's timber empire becomes complicated when it is learned that his wife, Serena, cannot bear children.
Typically, Lawrence plays an earthy life force, but a force under threat from the outside or within. Despite her inspired work in the comedies of David O. Russell, she is most at home in melodrama, a genre Serena embraces wholeheartedly.
Indeed, it's something of a throwback to King Vidor's movies of the 1940s and '50s, such as The Fountainhead and Ruby Gentry, where characters expressed larger-than-life passions by transforming their surroundings: building skyscrapers, draining swamps.
|Screen Writer||Christopher Kyle, Ron Rash (book)|
|Actors||Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Toby Jones|
|OFLC rating||Yet to be classified|
The future of George Pemberton's timber empire becomes complicated when it is learned that his wife, Serena, cannot bear children.
Vidor could well have dreamed up the improbable scene in which North Carolina timber baron George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) first spies Serena Shaw (Lawrence) at a show-jumping competition. He rides after her, accosts her in the middle of a field, and proposes they get married. And so they do.
Given George's proudly possessive attitude to the untouched forest he has waiting for him in Brazil, we might take him for a domineering chauvinist, but the film is more interesting than that. If anything, George looks up to his wife, who knows the logging industry like the back of her hand; in turn, she gives herself to him mind, body and soul.
Cooper once again proves his value as a leading man who approaches his roles like a character actor: he is never afraid to seem preening or deluded. Lawrence, in the early going, is a study in opacity: it takes a while for us to sense Serena's vulnerability, which, as with all Lawrence's characters, is the other side of her strength.
Bier relies to a large degree on handheld, searching close-ups, which alternate with portentous wide shots of the forest. This renders the setting slightly abstract, in the manner of her former mentor Lars von Trier - and the storytelling suffers from some sudden transitions and ill-explained twists.
But if this is not a perfect film it's an unusually haunting one. The peculiar dramatic rhythms reflect the violence-in-tranquility of the logging business itself, with lulls allowing the shocking moments to cut all the deeper.