The Portuguese colony of Macao in the 19th century. Mr. Clay is a very rich merchant and the subject of town gossip. He has spent many years in China and is now quite old. He likes his ... See full summary »
The Portuguese colony of Macao in the 19th century. Mr. Clay is a very rich merchant and the subject of town gossip. He has spent many years in China and is now quite old. He likes his clerk Levinsky to read the company's accounts to him at night for relaxation. Tonight Mr. Clay recounts a true story he heard years before about a rich man who paid a poor sailor 5 guineas to father a child with his beautiful young wife. Levinsky says that's a popular old sailor's legend and not true. Mr. Clay has no heir for his fortune and no wife either. He resolves to make the story true... Levinsky approaches Virginie, another clerk's mistress, and strikes a bargain for 300 guineas. Now to find the sailor... Written by
Orson Welles originally planned for this film to be made as part of an anthology of adaptations of stories by Karen Blixen. Originally made for French TV, it was later released in theaters. This movie is available on DVD from The Criterion Collection. See more »
This film is hardly a disaster, and certainly the themes are Wellesian. It's just not terribly interesting or believable. Old Orson Welles is a rich old merchant in Macao who believes that all the stories he hears should be factual. Accordingly, he is dismayed when an old sailor's tale he was told -- in which a sailor is hired by an aging merchant to impregnate his much younger wife -- is revealed to be false. So old Mr. Welles sets out to act out the story by finding a young woman to play the wife and hire a sailor, so that, when future sailors tell the story, they will be narrating a true tale.
In addition to this plot, there are a number of underdeveloped plot points. The sailor Orson finds was just rescued from a year lost on a desert island. The lady Orson finds used to live in Orson's house, back in the days when she had a rich father. None of them really add anything to our understanding of the characters. In the end, we have a beautifully shot but glacially paced film where characters make long pointless speeches, Jeanne Moreau gets pleasantly naked, and the film ends with a very literary irony that probably worked fine in the source novel, but does not impress in this film. In other words, this is a pretty typical European art film of the 60s, right down to the plot that could, without much alteration, be remade as a porn film. If you like these kind of movies, this film will be a nice surprise. If you are like me, and tend to find these sorts of things pretentious and dull, go watch Touch of Evil instead.
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