|Index||6 reviews in total|
George Cukor's adaptation of Lawrence Durrell's ALEXANDRIA QUARTET forms
shape of a dial made of character traits from medieval mystery
plays--Fanatic Patriotism, Sexual Cunning, Heartless Bargaining, Furtive
Retreat. If Durrell sought to catalogue every human impulse, Cukor had
another, lower agenda that serves the material beautifully: shifting these
allegorical characters into ripe, lustrous kitsch icons who seem to have
time-travelled from a Sternberg movie circa 1931.
The whole picture seems to have undergone a time-machine move from THE SHANGHAI GESTURE to swinging '69. It's Cukor's most vibrant movie visually, and each gorgeously staged and color-patterned shot finds a new way to layer an Islamic tapestry atop psychedelic poster art.
Cukor, brought in as a replacement, brings a vigor to the material you don't associate with him, and at 70, he still knew how to shape the beats of a scene like a Broadway pro. It is reported that he and the star, Anouk Aimee, loathed one another, and in honesty it's easy to see Cukor's frustration: she gives a dismally coy, incommunicative performance as the black widow whose web forms the story. She seems aberrantly at odds with the coolly dignified, taciturn style of the other performances: Dirk Bogarde, as the Graham Greene-ish diplomat with a lurid secret may never have been more creepily sympathetic than he is here. And John Vernon, an actor best known for playing pompous authoritarians in B movies, has such noble composure as Justine's long-suffering husband that he seems to turn into a folk-art engraving of a noble and besieged human soul.
A condensed version of Lawrence Durrell's brilliant literary classic Alexandria Quartet, Justine is about the sophisticated game of international intrigue and espionage in Alexandria, Egypt (at the time the Switzerland of Africa and the Middle East) between the first and second world war. Subtle character portraits from a range of British and European actors at the top of their game draws the viewer into a fascinating foreshadowing of the political events to come.
With very little exposition, we are unceremoniously plunked down into this muddle of a tale set on the coast of the Mediterranean sea in Alexandria, just north of Egypt. Michael York stars as a schoolteacher and writer in the 1930s who is returning to Alexandria on a "fool's journey", having an affair with a belly dancer but just as quickly dumping her for a tempestuous politico named Justine, a married prostitute (and former Jew!) who is panicked by the British takeover of the Muslims. Adapted from Lawrence Durrell's celebrated collection "The Alexandria Quartet", this indifferent, wayward drama shows no signs of a decisive captain of the ship. Filmmaker George Cukor (of all people) took over after the first director was fired; how much of the original work remains is unknown--but, no matter, the whole misbegotten venture is terrible from start to finish. York (who also narrates, seemingly under duress) approaches every scene with the same expression: a quizzical blank. Anouk Aimée teases him by licking crumbs from his lips and dashing into the ocean naked, but when York gets physical, she freezes up like a Hollywood heroine from the 1950s and tells him, "Don't!" Leon Shamroy's cinematography is fine, Jerry Goldsmith's music is lively, and John Vernon is surprisingly cordial and handsome as Justine's husband. All the rest is cinematic cabbage. *1/2 from ****
This is either a very good "bad" movie, or a bad "good" movie. Either way. Cukor's master touch is still visible even though he phoned this one in. Fine cinematography. As with so many films, the actors gave first rate performances but it was not enough. It's a cliche but it's true. The problem is with the story, or more specifically, the screenplay. We see love affairs and parties and characters appearing and disappearing all for no apparent reason. Another failure of trying to squeeze a complex novel into a two hour drama. By the time the secrets are revealed at the end, we really don't care. It is no reward for our having sat through 110 minutes of mish-mash-mush. To pawn this off as a "character study" is a poor excuse for a poor movie.
In 1938 Alexandria, a British schoolmaster (Michael York) befriends the
wife of a banker named Justine (Anouk Aimee), a mysterious woman whom
he meets through a British officer (Dirk Bogarde). She's actually a
prostitute and political activist.
Darley, the York character, finds out that Justine is heavily involved with an anti-British plot to give arms to the Jewish underground in Palestine.
This uneven film is based on Lawrence Durrell's collection, "The Alexandria Quartet." The film is pretty unsuccessful, though there are still signs of director Cukor's hands - he took over from the original director. The film seems like it starts in the middle. Nice photography, good music, but it doesn't hang together. Michael York, Dirk Bogarde, and John Vernon are all good; Aimee does okay. Apparently she and Cukor didn't get along. She gives a somewhat confusing performance.
Can't really recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Is it too enigmatic to be filmed or is this production just malformed? George Cukor's film of Lawrence Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet" stars Anouk Aimée as Justine, the seemingly amoral wife of a wealthy Egyptian, biding her time in 1930s Alexandria with a slew of lovers. There's a lot more going on, as young Irish poet Michael York slowly (perhaps too slowly) realizes. The film is never dull, but it does have a heavily edited feel to it, which is perhaps inevitable when collapsing four books into one screenplay. Cukor, who took over direction from Joseph Strick, offers up many colorful scenes full of many colorful characters. Unfortunately the film's lack of cohesion dooms it. Aimée is perfect for this role, she's always had a vacancy about her. York is a bit dull, but the supporting cast, including Dirk Bogarde, John Vernon, Jack Albertson (as a furrier with a very big secret), and Anna Karina, is terrific. Robert Forster plays a revolutionary and he has some of the best scenes. The great music score is by Jerry Goldsmith.
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