It is one of the ironies of my life that some of the movies I consider my favourite are also the ones I'm least able to watch. Obviously, this has nothing to do with the quality of the movie, unless it falls into the so awful it's a masterpiece category, it's their emotional impact that prohibits multiple viewings.
One of the movies that I find hardest to watch, even though I consider it beautiful, is Sally Potter's The Man Who Cried Poignant, bittersweet; pick any one of the usual clichéd adjectives you want and it still falls short of capturing the atmosphere generated by this film.
Perhaps it's the plot that does it to me. Not that it's all that original: young girl sets out to find father who has immigrated to America sounds like the story line from any Disney movie. What distinguishes The Man Who Cried from your standard movie of the week are the time period of the movie, the cast, and most of all Sally Potter's ability to avoid the pitfalls of cheap sentimentality and emotional manipulation.
The movie spans fourteen of some of the most tumultuous years of the twentieth century, and countries on three continents. It starts in the shetels, Jewish farming communities, of Russia in 1927 and ends in the United States in 1940. The physical journey corresponds to the journey of growing up that the lead character experiences on her quest to find her father.
Young Susie (not the character's real name, but the one she is given by the immigration people in England when she lands there unable to speak anything but Yiddish) has a wonderful life with her father and grandmother. Her father is a singer, both secular and religious, who sings to her constantly. The bond between the two is beautifully depicted, through the pleasure that each derives from the other's company.
Shortly after Papa leaves Susie is forced to flee with two boys only slightly older than herself during a pogrom. They eventually make a port town where Susie is separated and ends up alone on a ship heading to England. The image of a small child, clutching a photo of her father, sitting bolt upright on a bed in the steerage hold of a ship epitomises the anguish of refugees the world over.
In England, a teacher of Welsh origins discovers her inherited talents as a singer. He takes it upon himself to help the young girl to assimilate. His sympathy to her plight is made obvious when he is shown forcing her to speak English, and he blurts out: "They wouldn't let me speak Welsh"