Cactus (1986) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white: 

Cactus (1998) is a Paul Cox film about a French woman, Isabelle Huppert, who has left her husband and is visiting Australia. She has some undisclosed traffic accident where she loses the use of her left eye. When her right eye starts shutting down in some sympathetic reaction, she is told that she must have the left eye removed to save any sight in her right eye. She is introduced to a blind man, Robert Menzies, and learns from him other ways to "see." They become intimate. That is pretty much the plot. 

There are two impossibly dark love scenes between them, and some breast, buns and bush exposure of her standing in front of a window.  The film opens with 4 minutes of a slow pan of an Australian garden, and overly-loud bird calls, with some sacred music in the background. Roger Ebert, in awarding 3 stars, points out (correctly) that Paul Cox films are always about male/female relationships between unusual people. He seems to understand the film, and talks about the loudness of the bird calls showing, right from the start, how other senses become keener as you lose your sight. He found the choice she had to make over surgery to be distracting from what he thought the film was about.

Leonard Maltin sees it as a story about a girl who must choose between saving her sight, or becoming blind to join her blind lover, and says that the film only works when following that plot. He says 2 1/2 stars. 

 I didn't understand the film at all. 
  • First, if a film is about vision loss, why is most of it devoted to impressive visuals?
  • If it is actually a love story of mutual discovery, why aren't the two on screen together more often? 
  • The pace was excruciatingly slow, and if the symbolism of the cactus was ever explained, I missed it entirely. Menzies owns a huge cactus collection left to him by his father, so we do see some cacti during the film.
  • The other characters seem to exist only for exposition. 
  • The film is technically impressive, but I had a lot of trouble staying awake.
  • Huppert's French accent was distracting.
  • The DVD transfer was 4/3, dark and grainy. 


see the main commentary
 Scoopy's comments in yellow:

I agree completely with everything Tuna said, except that I think he worded his criticisms much too diplomatically. For instance, he said "Huppert's French accent was distracting". That is really euphemistic. There have been other films where her accent was distracting, like Heaven's Gate, but in this film it was clear that she had no idea how to deliver the lines in English. I assume they told her what the lines mean in French, and then she said them phonetically, trying for the same inflection she would have used in French. Or something like that. Whatever the explanation, the woman had no clue.

And as to Tuna's point that he had trouble staying awake, he wasn't being diplomatic, but downright charitable. This thing makes La Belle Noiseuse seem like an action film. Bring out Joanne Worley for a big "Bor-r-r-r-ing".

As to the plot, it was all laid out in the first minute or so. She has to choose whether to have the operation or not. We know she will. Nobody is really going to choose darkness. No sane blind lover would say "yes, be blind, like me. The world is better that way." We know she'll agonize over the decision, but we also know what she has to do. So, in effect, there is no plot after the car accident, and that happens in the opening credits. After that, it's 90 minutes of sensitive characterization, pretty pictures, and pretty sounds. The only remaining question is whether she'll go back to her husband, but since we get to know the blind guy, and the husband is an anonymous pen pal, I think we can also dupe that one out pretty well. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen

  • no features

Since the film has so many extreme strengths and extreme weaknesses, make your call about whether to see this film based on what's important to you. here's my report card:

Visuals: A

Sound: A

Characterization: C+

Plot: F

Leading lady's ability to speak English: F

DVD: F (poor image transfer, no widescreen, no features)

I'd like to rate it below C-, because it is so damned boring, but I can't because it looks and sounds so good. I agree with Tuna's C-, but would raise it to a C with a  DVD transfer which would allow us to see the beautiful cinematography in a properly mastered widescreen version. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Maltin 2.5/4 

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.2, based on very few votes.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C- (both reviewers agree).

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