A remarkably sensitive, consistently engrossing, and ultimately moving tale of a family facing an emotional and spiritual crisis, Bee Season is the third and best film so far from director-duo Scott McGehee and David Siegel (Suture , The Deep End ). Adapted from a 2001 Myla Goldberg novel of the same name, Bee Season exquisitely charts the individualistic struggles of a foursome who are gradually fading away from each other.
Richard Gere plays Saul, a Jewish professor of religious studies, whos the subtly overbearing patriarch of the said family. His wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche) feels suffocated by his presence, and along with attempting to come in terms with her enigmatic past, she starts to wither away in mind and body. Their two children -- teenaged son Aaron (Max Minghella) and 11-year-old daughter Eliza (Flora Cross), our precocious guide -- become aware of the widening gulf between them. Aaron, who already resents his mother, starts to undermine his father as he begins to neglect him in order to tutor Eliza for the National Spelling Bee championships after discovering her uncanny ability. Perhaps to make up for his own failures, Saul institutes his fascination with Kabbalah, the ancient practice of Jewish mysticism, in the lessons to which Eliza ultimately responds to.
One could imagine how difficult it wouldve been to adapt a novel which devotes ample time to each of its fascinating characters, but working with screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal, the filmmakers have molded and grasped its essence to the best of their abilities, while losing very little. Bee Season achieves visual and aural elegance due to DP Giles Nuttgens glassy compositions and Ben Barkers intricate sound design. But the most important contributions to this nuanced study are its performers: Gere is intensely physical; Binoche channels a bit of her best from Kieslowskis Blue (1993); Minghella is acutely sensitive; and Cross, whose bottomless blue eyes and a heightened worldview reminds one of Mara Alche, the other "holy girl," is brilliant as she takes charge and brings the film to its emotionally earnest conclusion. A demanding, yet highly rewarding experience, Bee Season is one of the best American films of 2005.