Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
In the misty, beautiful vacation destination of Sintra, Portugal, a group of travelers have their concerns centered on a famous actress (played by Isabelle Huppert) while she has plenty of worries about them. Her husband ( ) is depressed and we don’t know why, her stepdaughter ( ) is on the verge of divorce, her son ( ) is miserable since his last relationship broke up and her best friend (Marisa Tomei) has come to visit with her new boyfriend (Greg Kinnear) and their relationship hits an explosive climax almost as soon as they arrive. We spend time watching Huppert glumly traverse the various pleasures of this truly enchanting place, one filled with historical sites, local festivities and gorgeous natural scenery, but we don’t understand her obsession with arranging everyone’s lives until we get to the conclusion. By the time we do, we’ve been treated to too much of writer-director Ira Sach’s tin-eared feel for drama to actually care, as he sets up a group of people in various crises without ever giving us anything particularly insightful or even interesting about them. It’s likely that the film is meant as a tribute to the sort of thing Eric Rohmer did on a regular basis, having characters work out their interpersonal (usually sexual) woes in gorgeous sunny locales, but Rohmer’s characters sublimated their urges to lengthy philosophical and intellectual discussions that they deluded themselves into thinking placed them above their base carnal desires. Sachs doesn’t have the stamina for this kind of verbal ping-pong, instead his characters speak without any inventive ornamentation, they rarely talk about how they are feeling and simply talk about what they plan to do. In the absence of acute character observation we need a story, but what is there completely falls apart by the conclusion when Sachs decides, without having set it up properly, that the whole film has been about Huppert’s introspective search for a state of grace all along. Huppert is, as always, the mysterious Sphinx who hides her anxiety behind her tense but not impenetrable mask, but remains uncomfortable acting in English and fails to resonate the way she did in a similar (and much better) film like Things to Come. Tomei gives the best performance of the cast, sinking into the world and scenery, bothered not the least bit that her director has no idea what he wants to do with her.