This French film adaptation is, surprisingly, the best that I have seen. Maxence Mailfort as Bartleby brings an arresting pathos to his interpretation unlike the stolid and vacuous portrayals I have seen. Film veteran Michael Lonsdale as the Employer matches him in emotional resonance and artistry, imbuing the texture of his relationship to Bartleby with an originality of empathetic perplexity that creates a bond between the two that is exquisitely moving. It is quite unlike any other portrayal I have seen of this character, even Paul Scofield's in one of the other attempts to bring the story to the screen. Never before have I experienced such a tender, yes I use that word, realization of this work. The trappings of stock bewilderment I have characteristically seen actors recreating the Employer resort to are not here in any archetypal fashion. I have come to expect such an interpretation because every other depiction I have ever watched utilizes it, but never really transcends it. There is one point at the end of the famous scene on the stairs where the camera slowly approaches Bartleby to mid close-up, and the moment coalesces into an articulation of sadness so stunning that I caught my breath. It was the culmination of sympathetic wonder and sensitivity that Maxence Mailfort brought to his portrayal. I have a copy of this film and I return to it on occasion to marvel at the freshness of both performances, definitely not the usual reaction I have had to any other film adaptation of the story. The film needs no subtitles or dubbing, and I am so glad that my copy has none. I recommend watching it solely in French even if you do not speak the language. As a non-speaker, I found it eminently surpassing any other film version of Melville's story by a mile. Highly recommended. Ironic perhaps that the best adaptation, at least to me, is in French. (Sort of like the best feature film of America's history of slavery, 12 Years a Slave, was brought to the screen not by Americans but by the British.)
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