The title of Sally Potter’s WWII-era drama refers to no one in particular; in fact, it has little do with much of anything, especially considering the main character is a young woman. The film begins with the Jewish protagonist, Fegele, being sent away from her village in Russia by her family in 1927 for fear of possible persecution. She lands in England, where she is renamed Suzie and brought up in a Christian school and household. Ten years later, Suzie (now played by Christina Ricci) is all grown up and ready to pursue a life of her own, which she finds in Paris as a chorus girl. But her happiness is again threatened as Nazi forces close in on the City of Lights.
Although WWII plays a large role in “The Man Who Cried,” it is hardly the film’s main concern. The war and the accompanying prejudices loom ominously throughout (and the era is further echoed by the beautiful mock Technicolor of Sacha Vierny’s cinematography), but this is essentially a timeless story about a young woman searching for her father and, in turn, her lost heritage. While she and her family were still in Russia, her father (Oleg Yankovskiy) left for America to find work, promising to send back for his loved ones once he was settle, which proved to be an impossibility. It’s a simple plot, but it is quite poignant in its modest, literally quiet nature; Potter keeps dialogue to a minimum, especially for Suzie. Her soft-spokenness can easily be taken as passivity, but Ricci has a captivating inner strength and intelligence that radiates in her expressive face; her Suzie may be silent most of the time, but she’s never opaque.
With the possible exception of a seemingly disinterested Johnny Depp, once again playing a gypsy and also again romancing Ricci, the supporting ensemble, which includes John Turturro (as a vain Italian opera star) also Harry Dean Stanton (as the opera company’s manager), makes their mark. Coming off most indelibly is Cate Blanchett, continuing to dazzle with her chameleonic virtuosity as chatterbox Russian showgirl and Suzie’s roommate, Lola. But their and Ricci’s work is ultimately just support for Potter’s entrancing and emotional vision.