- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2001

"The Man Who Cried," with a mock-epic scenario that emerged from the fevered, absent-minded brow of English writer-director Sally Potter, dwells on a little girl lost.

Following teaser images that depict the aftermath of a sea calamity, a prologue invites the viewer to share the mutual devotion of a little girl called Fegele and her beloved cantor Papa, discovered playing hide-and-seek in a fir forest in agrarian Russia, circa 1927.

Suddenly, Papa joins the immigrant exodus to the New World, leaving Fegele to a cruel, exiled fate as a nameless refugee. A genuine heartbreaker as embodied by Claudia Lander-Duke, she washes ashore in England with a smudged face. An immigration official names her Suzie. A perhaps well-meaning but scarcely fun-loving couple adopt her. Worse yet, the appealing juvenile performer is replaced by Christina Ricci, whose pudgy impassivity helps doom the remainder of the movie to lovelorn and world-historical nonsense.

The weirdly mum and watchful Suzie seemingly has a gift for song. Wanderlust takes her to the Continent, ostensibly Paris in 1939, where the heroine fails to notice the gathering war clouds. She joins a cabaret troupe and then becomes a member of the chorus in an opera company improbably managed by Harry Dean Stanton,.

Taken under the wing of a fortune-hunting Russian called Lola (Cate Blanchett in an atrocious accent and hideous makeup), Suzie looks delightfully hilarious in armor and mustache as part of the background for "Il Trovatore." In the foreground, John Turturro simulates high notes as tenor headliner Dante Dominio, soon to reveal fascist leanings even worse than his footlight vanity.

While the shameless Lola vamps silly-sinister Dante, Suzie becomes enthralled by another player: Johnny Depp as the Gypsy horseman Cesar, who seems figuratively naked if not accompanied by his white steed. The frequency with which Suzie, Cesar and horse become inseparable dates is perhaps the movie's jolliest inspiration. For some reason, Miss Potter drops the conceit and tries to get Suzie and Cesar alone for orgasmic heavy lifting. It would be much wittier if the horse remained in camera range.

"Sleepy Hollow" didn't exactly establish Miss Ricci and Mr. Depp as an insinuating romantic team. "The Man Who Cried" makes them look even funnier when miming passion. Miss Potter even spares Mr. Depp's voice by limiting Cesar's dialogue to scattered ruminations, notably "We are family, we are one."

Suzie, always late to catch up with news of war and Nazi occupation, cravenly separates from Cesar in order to let Lola drag her to safety in America, at which point the sea calamity is explained: Their liner is bombed, and generous Lola doesn't make it. Incredibly, Suzie locates long-lost Papa, who has had a "Ragtime" sort of experience off-camera, rising from penniless immigrant to Hollywood movie producer specializing in flop musicals. Suzie gets to sing one last time for her ailing father.

One can imagine several swan songs as a consequence of "Cried." The film ought to provoke self-pitying nightmares in everyone whose career might be harmed by association with a stilted howler.

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