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While a British film crew are shooting a version of The Duchess Of Malfi in Venice, they in turn are being filmed by a sleasy documentary primadonna while the strange staff share meals which consist of human meat. Then there is the hit man, the call girl and the Hollywood producer all managing to become part of the madness... Written by
John Webster's play "The Duchess of Malfi" was first performed in 1614 at the Globe Theatre in London, and first published in 1623. The onscreen credits simply list the title followed by the author's name, and omit the word "play". See more »
I came across this movie in the local rental outlet, where it has a fashionable DVD jacket, a cast list that seems to never end the names of celebrities and famous actors, and a text on the back of the cover that suggests this movie is a very smart, eery horror movie.
Well. It is not. I watched it, and after about five hours - or was it just 2? time distorts with boredom... - it ended, and I also watched the "making of". Which explained a lot. The concept: The director wanted to shoot a movie. In Venice. With lots of famous actors that receive equally small salaries. Using only digital cameras and his own handheld camera rig inventions. Without a script, entirely improvised. Without. A. Script.
That should explain it all. Let's just describe one scene, somewhere in the movie: A hotel maid pours white liquid into two cocktail glasses that are placed in front of a business man on a cell phone. She undresses, dipping her breasts into both glasses in front of the - now just mildly distracted - business man, who continues to bark orders into his cell phone. She dips them in again. She stands up and gets dressed. The guy drinks the white liquid from the glasses. The sequence lasts a few minutes, is completely without reference or context, and just sits there, eager to provoke an audience reaction, but failing (in my case).
Or, the 10-minute flamenco dance shot simultaneously with 4 cameras. Impressive, but useless. There are many such scenes - out of context, without purpose, done purely for the joy of doing them.
Now don't get me wrong - the movie (if it can be called a movie) has its moments. Yes, with a lot of effort, you can almost make out a story (a film crew shooting a cheap movie in Venice, sticking to a weird dogma of guerilla-movie-making). There is a murder - or at least an attempted murder. And, the most memorable scene of the movie has to be the 15 minutes or so that we see the shot director lying on the ground, only able to move his eyes, while his cast come to him and talk to him, too self-absorbed to notice he's dying. The three other (sex) scenes playing in the other split screen windows at the same time look pale in comparison. (Note to director: 4 split screens is just too much!) Or the scene where a woman undresses, whispering comments to the audience ("Now, why should this be particularly interesting to you?" she asks, while removing the first item of clothing) before engaging in sex with the comatose director.
But do 2 memorable scenes make up for all the rest? After all, the DVD jacket sleeve promised thrills, chills, and cleverness. There was nothing thrilling about the entire movie at all. And, while it may think it's clever, it just isn't. The actors, left to improvise a story out of nowhere, fail to achieve much. In the beginning, Rhys Ifans (playing the director) grabs the screen, eager to be the centre of attention, and shouting so much that no one else gets noticed at all. No wonder they "improvised" his assassination - they must have been sick of not being noticed. Then, the rest of the cast fail to do anything creative, and most of the pleasure is in watching their movie-in-a-movie, which has more dialogue and more of a storyline, and more displays of acting skills than the rest of the story. Then, Salma Hayek tries to steal the show (by being incredibly annoying) and is improvised away, just as she becomes unbearable. Is there a pattern here?
The moral is, a movie without a script cannot be entertaining. Film students and artists may appreciate it, but the rest of the population won't. And, with 20-odd egos, it's impossible to make a good movie.
Quite frankly, only watch this if you are looking for material to write a bad review or a bad arts essay about. Or if you need something to satirize - the entire movie feels like an extended version of the short film that the arts teacher presents to her class in "Ghost World" - a bad joke at art's expense....
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