Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
Mexico/USA, 1984. Conacite Unoo, Ithaca. Screenplay by Guy Gallo, based on the novel by Malcolm Lowry. Cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa. Produced by Moritz Borman, Wieland Schulz-Keil. Music by Alex North. Production Design by Gunther Gerszo. Costume Design by Angela Dodson. Film Editing by Roberto Silvi. Academy Awards 1984. Cannes Film Festival 1984. Golden Globe Awards 1984. National Board of Review Awards 1984. New York Film Critics Awards 1984.
A British diplomat living in Mexico (Albert Finney) has given up his posting, saying it’s because he no longer feels passionate about the job but actually because he prefers to spend his days drunkenly wandering through the town of Cuernavaca. His wife (Jacqueline Bisset) had left him because of his alcoholism, but out of the blue returns after months of sending him letters that he wasn’t responding to. She finds him living with his brother (Anthony Andrews), the only normalizing aspect of his life who is trying to keep him somewhat healthy, but these two, separate or together, are no match for the man’s determination to stay on his self-destructive path. A movie that sits around observing a man shout and slur drunkenly in one bar or another sounds like a dreadful bore, but with as charismatic an actor as Finney playing him and as strong a director as John Huston behind the camera, it manages to feel dramatically satisfying if not particularly essential. The gorgeous cinematography and lush score by Alex North are vibrantly at odds with Finney’s dark despair and this conflict makes for the film’s fascinating, subtle tension, juxtaposing the ironic darkness of the Day of the Dead celebrations that are occurring against his genuine misery. The film’s only incongruous element is the tidy conclusion, as if Huston is apologizing for how little actually happens the rest of the time; he should have trusted us to be committed enough to bear his controlled, low simmer chaos until the end.