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Malpertuis (1971)

A young sailor finds himself trapped in the labyrinthine mansion of his occultist uncle, along with a number of eccentric and mysterious relatives who all seem to be harboring a dark secret.

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(screenplay and dialogue), (novel)
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
... Cassavius
... Nancy / Euryale / Alice / Nurse / Charlotte
... Charles Dideloo
... Jan
... Lampernisse
... Mathias Crook
... Eisengott
Dora van der Groen ... Sylvie Dideloo
Charles Janssens ... Philarette
Sylvie Vartan ... Bets
Jet Naessens ... Eleonora
Cara Van Wersch ... Rosalie
Jenny Van Santvoort ... Elodie
Fanny Winkler ... Mother Griboin
Robert Lussac ... Griboin (as Bob Storm)
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Storyline

Malpertuis is a labyrinth where characters issued from the Greek mythology are made prisoners by Cassavius. He manages to keep them (as well as his nephew and niece) as prisoners even after his death, through a binding testament. As the nephew unravels the mystery, we find out he cannot escape the house because Malpertuis is far more significant than we were led to believe. Written by Flávia Dietrich

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Drama | Fantasy | Horror

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1971 (Belgium)  »

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Malpertuis  »

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(Gevacolor)

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1.85 : 1
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Trivia

This film was Harry Kümel's favorite project for a long time but it was not until his previous film Daughters of Darkness (1971) succeeded at the box office (most notably in the US) that he managed to raise funding for it. Unfortunately, "Malpertuis" did poorly in most countries, though it was even nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. See more »

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User Reviews

 
We'll always have Olympus.
24 May 2001 | by See all my reviews

Based on the novel by Jean Ray (the so-called "Belgian Poe"), "Malpertuis" begins with Jan, a young sailor, being summoned with a motley company of acquaintances and family to the death bed of his mysterious Uncle Cassave. Cassave soon dies, leaving his considerable fortune to the dozen or so people he has summoned. However, there are stiff terms attached to his gift: The inheritors must all live for the rest of their lives at Malpertuis, Cassave's mansion. Jan soon realizes there is something amiss at Malpertuis (a name meaning either "house of evil" or "house of cunning"). There is something odd in the attic, in the labyrinthine hallways, and in the surrounding wood. There is something even stranger about Malpertuis' other inhabitants: the mad hermit Lampernisse who haunts the mansion's dark corridors, the coy and beautiful Euryale who will not look anyone in the face, and the diabolic taxidermist Philarete, to name only a few. When the secret of Malpertuis is finally brought to light among this bizarre cast of characters, the mansion erupts into a seething cauldron of terror, and both heaven and earth seem to collapse around Jan.

While fans of Jean Ray's novel will find the story much changed, the film is visually engaging at the very least, and the casting is excellent, for the most part. Orson Welles plays the dying Uncle Cassave, delivering the second performance of his career as a large man stuck in a very large bed (the other performance being, of course, in his adaptation of Kafka's "The Trial"). Susan Hampshire gives an admirable performance in four different roles--excellently well disguised and made-over in each--as Euryale, Nancy, Alice, and a nurse. The sets are extraordinary, filling the screen with an unending stream of vivid detail. Also, the film's cinematography is often both aggressive and intelligently creative, employing just the sort of unpredictable perspective necessary to portray the mansion's mystifying interior.

Disappointments with the film begin small. Jean-Pierre Cassel as Lampernisse does not look the part. Instead of a tall, shadowy, aged-but-ageless, and profoundly mad hermit, he looks like a leper who has wandered off the set of "Ben-Hur." Accompanying Lampernisse is the laughable, high-pitched babble of the "creatures in the attic." In these rare instances, the filmmakers miss by a wide margin the texture of Ray's novel. At other times the film slightly underplays or rushes some of the book's strongest scenes. The one serious offense, though, is the film's ending; the muddled chaos here is a poor substitute for Ray's synchronized anarchy.

This is not to say that the film loses itself completely. The strength of the first hour and more cannot be entirely undermined by the ending. The inspired cinematography and many of the sets, performances, and special effects are truly exceptional. The scenes with little, crazed, mousy Philarete and his morbid workroom are reason enough for the film to exist. Subtlety and humor are here as well, perhaps best represented in the recurring static shot of the inheritors occupying themselves in Malpertuis' small drawing room.


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