It's a kind of road movie/buddy movie in which a 16 year old prisoner, (26 year old Jon Seda, excellent), who happens to be dying of cancer, escapes taking his doctor, (a miscast Woody Harrelson), hostage. It veers wildly between black comedy and some high flautin' philosophizing, bypassing the conventions of the thriller on the way. It's an ambitious picture that makes you wonder what audience Cimino had in mind, (did we really need the dotty Anne Bancroft episode), and you could say it's certainly the work of a maverick director, being closer in tone to the American films of the seventies than what was being turned out in the nineties and for all its faults you can tell it's the work of a major filmmaker, one whose real potential was never fully realized. Seek this one out.
Lee Van Cleef is now the leader but apart from Michael Callan you can forget trying to recall the names of the others. The dialogue is woeful, (or is it just Van Cleef's line readings?), the revenge element unpleasant and the 'direction' of one, George McCowan, virtually non-existant. This is a travesty which should be avoided at all costs.
The film unfolds like a series of extremely tasteless sketches, the kind of thing Mike Nichols and Elaine May might have done, and it's very funny. Segal and Gordon are superb though it is Ron Leibman who steals the movie as Gordon's other son and there are excellent cameos from the likes of Rae Allan and Barnard Hughes. The critics loved it but audiences didn't know what hit them. Now it feels like a key seventies movie and one of the great comedies.
It's well cast and well played by some very talented players, (Marcia Gay Harden as a nurse, Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston and David Harbour as secret service men, Paul Giametti as Abraham Zapruder, Jackie Weaver and James Badge Dale as Oswald's mother and brother; even Zac Efron as a young doctor who fails to save Kennedy's life is excellent). Landesman shoots it in a semi-documentary style which is fine though perhaps the editing is a little on the busy side; he doesn't seem to like to hold a frame for more than a few seconds at a time. I don't know, of course, how close any of this is to the facts but presumably the film was researched to within a few inches of its life and no matter how often this story has been told on screen it continues to be very moving.
It's obvious were are meant to take it all very seriously but this is the worst kind of intellectual tosh; at least those dire exorcist horror movies involving priests don't have any pretensions to being anything other than what they are on the surface unlike this nonsense which controversially won the Palme d'Or but was booed by a large section of the audience who obviously saw through it. There are those who think it's a masterpiece but when set beside the Bresson picture it seems to me to be something of a travesty.
The central character is Gerard Depardieu's charming, brutalizing inspector who thinks nothing of beating up suspects to get a confession and both he and the film may remind you of Kirk Douglas in "Detective Story" and it's a beautiful piece of acting. Equally good, as the drug dealer's girl that Depardieu falls for, is Sophie Marceau. Ultimately the 'thriller' plot is all but jettisoned as Pialat digs deeper into the lives and backgrounds of his characters which is just as well as the plot becomes both very complicated and a little ridiculous. Still, this is a Pialat picture; mean, melancholy and fiercely intelligent.
Pialat himself plays the father with a world-weariness that makes you wonder how much of himself he had poured into the part or why he hadn't chosen another actor for the role. As Suzanne's mother and brother Evelyne Ker and Dominique Besnehard are equally brilliant and make for a very realistic and dysfunctional family. It is, of course, very 'French', full of amour fou and Gallic passion and is certainly not the kind of film a British or American director might have made and for a film full of characters you are unlikely to empathize with or like it nevertheless holds you in a vice-like grip. It is also one of Pialat's finest achievements.
It's also preposterously plotted and atrociously acted. Michael Caine, (dreadful), is the lead and Anthony Andrews, Victoria Tennant, Michael Lonsdale and Lilli Palmer are among the others who are wasted in this rubbish. That fine British character actor Bernard Hepton manages to come out of it smelling of roses which is really something of a miracle. Of course, perhaps it was meant to be a comedy but if it was it isn't a particularly funny one.
In some respects you could say not a great deal happens, at least not conventionally, in Oliver Laxe's film, (it's only his second), and yet this is so much more than a beautifully photographed travelogue, (Laxe shot the film on location mostly in the Atlas mountains). There is an almost profound sense of both joy and sadness in the relationship that develops between the three men and their strange cargo as well as genuine sense of mystery, (many events are left unexplained). Laxe also gets wonderful performances from Ahmed Hammoud as the man who agrees to take the body in the first place and from Shakib Ben Omar as the little runt who proves to have a lot more going for him than meets the eye, (neither men are professional actors though Shakib did appear in Laxe's first film). There are also scenes here of such pure physicality that they almost rival those in "Aguirre, Wrath of God". I have yet to see Laxe's earlier "You are all Captains" but "Mimosas" certainly heralds the arrival of a major player in world cinema.
The plot is complex, the characters beautifully realized and the performances all brilliant. As well as Burton at his near best, Oskar Werner was, as always, remarkably good as another Communist spy, Claire Bloom very nicely cast as the left-wing librarian Burton gets involved with and Cyril Cusack was a perfectly cool and ever so cynical Control. George Smiley even pops up in the form of Rupert Davies. The director was Martin Ritt and this remains one of his best films while Oswald Morris did the brilliant black and white cinematography.
We are told the movie is 'mostly' based on actual events but I think we have to take a lot of what we see with a pinch of salt. It's certainly an entertaining picture, if a little twee and whimsical at times, but there is also a little more heft to it than meets the eye. As written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Frears this is no mere sentimental, historical romp. It is, of course, the story of the Queen's friendship, in the years before her death, with her Indian servant Abdul Karim, (Ali Fazal, an actor new to me), which until recently was something kept very much under wraps and which was very much opposed to by the Prime Minister, her son the Prince of Wales and the entire royal household and Hall makes this another post-Brexit movie, (I have a feeling we are going to see a lot of post-Brexit movies in the next few years).
What we have here is a film about racism and about empire and it's quite as relevant today as it was back in Victoria's time. Not that you have to take it too seriously; there's a lot of low comedy on display and Frears has assembled an outstanding cast of British character actors. Eddie Izzard is an obnoxious future king, the late Tim Piggot-Smith is quite wonderful as the toadying head of the household, Michael Gambon is the befuddled Prime Minister and Paul Higgins practically walks off with the picture as the Queen's concerned doctor; concerned, not with her health, but with the number of Indians about the place. As a piece of film-making there is, naturally, a large dose of Masterpiece Theatre on display but that, in itself, isn't such a bad thing. "Victoria & Abdul" goes down a treat.