TOKYO -- Based on Max Frisch
's best-seller ''Homo Faber'' (retitled ''Voyager'' for worldwide release), this seminal novel had been a property of Paramount Pictures ever since its appearance on the best-seller lists back in 1957. But when it was recently dropped, apparently on the supposition that its incest theme was too difficult to film, the book was immediately picked up by German director Volker Schloendorff.
Now one of the finalists in the ''Felix'' European Film Awards, ''Voyager'' also happens to be Schloendorff's best film since ''The Tin Drum'' (1977).
American playwright Sam Shepard
plays 50-year-old Walter Faber
, a self-made man who views himself as an architect of his own fortunes. As sketched by Frisch, he's a recognizable type of modern intellectual who stubbornly believes that he can control his own destiny, even when confronted by one unnerving coincidence after another while on an odyssey half-way around the world. Add to this the moral dilemma of a man unsuspectingly having an affair with his own daughter, and you have a provocative updating of Sophocles' ''Oedipus Rex'' theme.
Schloendorff, however, introduces two changes into the plot: He switches Faber's nationality and discards the stigma of his protagonist condemned to die of cancer.
So Walter Faber
is an American engineer, instead of a Swiss one, who cruises the world in the employ of Unesco to inspect dams and construction sites.
Considering today's propensity for globetrotting, it doesn't really make much difference in the long run which nationality he is. But to strip Faber completely of moral responsibility by eliminating the cancer issue weakens the ending considerably.
Shot in New York, Los Angeles, Mexico, France, Italy and Greece -- in addition to a trip across the Atlantic on an ocean liner --
''Voyager'' -- screened here as part of the Tokyo International Film Festival -- gets off to a strong start by depicting a crash-landing of the then new Super-Constellation aircraft in the Mexican desert. It's Faber's first brush with death, which in turn introduces the first coincidence that is about to change his life.
On the flight, he has met by chance a German passenger who turns out to be the brother of a long-lost friend of pre-World War II days. Since the friend had married the woman Faber once loved but abandoned for a career, the engineer decides to join his new companion on a journey to a plantation outpost in the South American jungle, where they discover that the friend and brother has committed suicide.
Back in New York, Faber decides to return to Europe by way of an ocean liner. This triggers the second coincidence: a chance meeting with a girl named Sabeth (Julie Delpy
), who fascinates him and later turns out to be his daughter by the woman he once loved. Since the girl is on her way back from a student sojourn in the United States to rejoin her mother, Hanna (Barbara Sukowa
), in Greece, the focus of the film hereafter is a conscious spiritual reworking of the Oedipus theme.
Shepard gives an even and convincing performance as the tired intellectual searching for a new meaning to his life. But it's young French actress Delpy -- a discovery of Jean-Luc Godard in his recent ''Lear'' adaptation -- who steals the show as the seductively carefree Sabeth.
German actress Sukowa as Hanna also offers an effective cameo, although her performance is unfortunately limited by its brevity. Otherwise, she well might have tied a lot of loose knots together to underscore the reasons why Frisch was fascinated by the modern-day plot possibilities offered by a timeless Sophoclean tragedy in the first place.
Bioskop Film (Munich), in co-production with Action Film (Paris) and STEFI 2/Hellas Video (Athens)
Producer Eberhard Junkersdorf
Co-producer Klaus Hellwig
Director Volker Schloendorff
Screenplay Volker Schloendorff, Rudy Wurlitzer
Based on the novel by Max Frisch
Directors of photography Yorgos Arvanitis
, Pierre L'Homme
Art director Nicos Perakis
Costumes Barbara Baum
Music Stanley Myers
Editor Dagmar Hirtz
Color/Black and white
Starring: Sam Shepard
, Julie Delpy
, Barbara Sukowa
, Dieter Kirchlechner
, Traci Lind
, Deborah-Lee Furness, August Zirner
Running time -- 117 minutes
No MPAA rating
(c) The Hollywood Reporter