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Marie Curie – Marie Noelle

Still from the movie Marie Curie, directed by Marie Noelle, 2016. In the picture: Karolina Gruszka, photo: Witold Baczyk/Kino Świat
Still from the movie Marie Curie, directed by Marie Noelle, 2016. In the picture: Karolina Gruszka, photo: Witold Baczyk/Kino Świat 

In Marie Noelle’s biopic there is drama and romance, story of emancipation and forbidden love, there is also a portrayal of an epoch. The only thing lacking is Marie Curie, her intelligence, genius and exceptionality. 

Noelle’s movies spans 8 years between two defining moments in Curie’s scientific biography. It begins in 1903, when Pierre and Marie Curie received Nobel Prize, and ends in 1911, with the second Nobel Prize, this time for Marie alone. Seeing these two important points, one could expect the director to tell a story of a struggle between a scientist and the unknown, about breaching barriers and confronting own weaknesses in order to uncover mysteries of nature.




Meanwhile, in Marie Curie the lab is just a background scenery, not a confrontation arena. The main heroine does indeed stroll through the laboratory, glancing through time to time at one or two probes, but, to be honest, for Marie Noelle these scenes are just fillers to give viewers a small break from other, more prominent subplots.

The French director gives up on chemistry, deeming it not interesting enough and not spectacular enough to be the main interest in a mainstream movie. She does not even try to explain the importance of Curie’s discovery and tremendous amounts of dedication needed to achieve it. And that is a pity. We do know that scientific breakthroughs, however complicated, can prove to be interesting stories. Morten Tyldum in his The Imitation Game, the biography of a brilliant mathematician Alan Turing and his work on decoding the Enigma, showed how cryptology can be equally interesting to emotional hardships, and professional life as enthralling as private matters.

... and romantic

In Noelle’s film the whole science thing is just a pretext to the exploration of sociological background and emotional life and choices of the chemist. This focus causes the affair with a married scientist Paul Langevin, in which Marie Curie was involved after her husband’s death, to become, together with the social outrage that it caused, the central point of the movie. 

There is something devious in the way the affair is depicted. On the one hand, she seems to take Curie’s side, showing the hypocrisy of the Paris society, which viewed the scientist as a sinner and offender of social conventions. On the other hand, the director takes on the role of one of the gossipers, who, red faced, watches the forbidden romance unfold. She does not even try to understand why the romance happened, what the romance means for the parties involved, and what it means for the couple. While watching the movie we cannot feel the bond between the lovers, we cannot understand their feelings and we cannot root for them. We are just passively passively waiting to see how the events unfold.

Parisian Grundyism

Still from the movie Marie Curie, directed by Marie Noelle, 2016. In the picture: Samuel Finzi, Piotr Głowacki, Karolina Gruszka, photo: Witold Baczyk/Kino Świat
Still from the movie Marie Curie, directed by Marie Noelle, 2016. In the picture: Samuel Finzi, Piotr Głowacki, Karolina Gruszka, photo: Witold Baczyk/Kino Świat 

Marie Curie is, finally, an emancipatory tale. It’s a story of a fight of an ingenious woman for recognition from a misogynistic world of the academia. However, even that plot is not fully explored, because it cannot be. The movie is full of underdeveloped themes – romance, family tale (subplot about her father-in-law which got lost somehow), story of a scientist, and a tale about freeing yourself from the patriarchal society. However, with all these themes, it ends up being yet another predictable mass of pretty images.

If there is one thing worth watching the movie for, it’s Karolina Gruszka’s portrayal of the main character. The Polish actress, who is usually cast as an esoteric seductress, this time could prove herself playing a true, flesh-and-blood character, and she passed the test with flying colours. Gruszka’s Curie travels a long way, changing from a brittle wife and mother into a confident and empowered woman. The change is not explicitly stated in her words, but viewers can feel it in her gestures, face expressions and even the way she moves. The Polish actress indeed succeeded in creating a really convincing character despite all the faults of the screenplay. Her depiction of the chemist is a story of a woman who picks up a fight for her own sake.

However, even this brilliant and captivating performance cannot redeem the mediocrity of the movie. Marie Curie remains a film with unfulfilled potential, a very beautiful, but psychologically incomplete picture. Marie Curie, one of the most fascinating scholars in the history of science truly deserves a better, more thorough picture.

  • Marie Curie, directed by Marie Noelle, cinematography: Michał Englert. Starring: Karolina Gruszka, Izabela Kuna, Arieh Worthalter, Charles Berling, Malik Zidi, Daniel Olbrychski. Release date: 3 March 2017.

Written by Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by AS, March 2017

Tags: maria skłodowska curieMarie Noellekarolina gruszkawaldemar pokromskimichał englertpiotr głowackimarie curie

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