The Age of Innocence (1993), based on the Edith Wharton novel, is much more than the Merchant-Ivory wannabe its detractors would have one believe. Beautifully filmed, the flowers and gowns, ballrooms and dinner tables gleam with a sensual delight that belies the repressed individuals who people this film and its social milieu. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a subtle, mannered, yet ultimately heartbreaking performance. Winona Ryder, still in the bloom of youth and finding her footing as an actress, is used to her best advantage. And Michelle Pfeiffer reminds the world that she is not only a great beauty, but an actress, and a wonderful one at that. The most amazing aspect of this movie is that, for its entire length, not a single person says what they actually mean. It's that which is unsaid that speaks volumes, and in the end it's devastating.
Kundun (1997), obviously made more for personal reasons than to please studio honchos, is just as obviously a labor of love. Telling the tale of Tenzin Gyatso, known to the world as the 14th Dalai Lama, this film, more than most by Scorsese, relies heavily upon imagery to get its point across. The cast, largely of actual Tibetan refugees, most of whom are non-actors, provides an aura of authenticity to the entire project. Warm and majestic cinematography blends seamlessly with the Philip Glass score, to the extent that it's hard to imagine one without the other. (This was also a labor of love for Glass, and the result is some of his finest work.) The final fifteen minutes of the film are virtually wordless; pure sound and vision propel the viewer to its very moving conclusion. And that is what cinema is all about.