Arushi Sinha - 47 weeks ago
Al Pacino’s Oscar winning performance is on Netflix and here’s why I loved it.
(Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar in a still from Scent of a Woman)
Based on the book by Giovanni Arpino, Scent of a Woman released on 23rd December 1992 and was immediately classified as a coming-of-age film. Considered a classic starring Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell, it has been enjoyed for over a decade by the generation now considered old. As it hits Netflix this month, the author explored this film as a young adult who has grown up on a different definition of seeking and finding love.
Scent of a Woman is the story of an unusual relationship - between an eccentric, irritable, medically retired Army officer who is partially blind and loves his drink; and a young, under confident student who turns his caretaker to meet the expenses of his education. It finally won Al Pacino a Best Actor award after multiple nominations in the past. Most importantly, it rejigged Hollywood formulae of making Oscar worthy or award worthy cinema, with a story about an unusual friendship driving it’s plot.
The film very subtly builds this friendship between Charlie Simms, the student who agrees to look after retired Lt. Col. Frank Slade, the blind arrogant gentleman, for Thanksgiving, in return for money. Charlie gets offered a bribe to rat on his friends about a prank by his headmaster, in exchange of a guaranteed seat at Harvard - a truth that is applicable to realities of student life till date.
(Philip Seymour Hoffman and Chris O'Donnell in a still from Scent of a Woman)
While the film uses Charlie Simms as the narrator, it’s story focuses on the revelation that this irritable Army man slowly turns out to be. For Simms, it’s a study in human nature. When a trip to New York, portrayed as an innocent little trip for Charlie with Frank, takes a darker turn, the film’s real intention gives a peek. This unexpected turn of events raises questions such as “Why did he even want to do it?” “Why is he impulsive?” “Why is he the way he is?” in my mind, which unfortunately, one fails to understand even till the end of the movie since Frank Slade’s reasons for behaving the way he does in the entire movie have not been explicitly stated. Perhaps the one reason subtly indicated is his blindness, and how it makes him feel deeply inadequate, which explains his eccentric and irate nature.
For the author, redemption for Frank’s character and insight into his true self presented a poignant high point in the film. The beautiful dance of Tango between Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar is sensual and intense as one expects that Frank will make a mistake because he’s blind yet he softly and without a pause glides Donna across the floor for the entirety of the song, leaving one watching on in amazement. This also comes off as a move on the part of Al Pacino’s character, a winning stroke in an otherwise long litany of complaining and irritability.
(Director Martin Brest explaining a scene to Al Pacino on the set of Scent of a Woman)
Another scene, which may raise a question in the mind of the viewer, is the one where Charlie insists that they go on a ride and Frank eventually agrees, getting him a Ferrari. “How did Frank, being blind, drive a Ferrari and get away with it?” is left unanswered. This is where one starts to think of the complexity of the character of Lt. Col. Frank Slade and his understanding of the world and his visually challenged abilities. The film ends with a powerful and sentimental speech by Frank who is defensive of his now-close friend, Charlie when the latter is about to be suspended for not ratting on his friends. This scene wraps up Frank’s redemption, revealing that at heart, he is a principled and honorable man who has been dealt a rough hand by life.
Scent of Woman is interesting to the author, who loves to watch series and films that tend to be horrors, thrillers or pacey dramas, because it’s simply a good story. Romances and love stories also tend to structure themselves around formats that work well with young viewers - quick on the take and fast on the move. A departure from current flavors in film and streaming, this Al Pacino classic is about the charm of discovery - of a person beyond his outward bearing. It is also a unique tale of mentoring turned to friendship, where a generation gap or age doesn’t interfere with the ultimate principle of standing by a friend. Al Pacino delivers this performance with a punch, rarely missing a beat of poignancy when required. It is romantic without being a love story, which is unique. It takes cinematic liberties but then the source material is Italian, a verbose culture where over the top expression is fairly common place even in everyday interactions.
People that are two generations elder to the author love Scent of A Woman. One can see why. It's in no rush to tell a beautiful story. And it grows on you even today.
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