Almayer’s Folly (2011)

CHANTAL AKERMAN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

Original Title: La folie Almayer

/, 2011. , , , , , , , , , , . Screenplay by Chantal Akerman, consulting writers , , based on the novel by . Cinematography by . Produced by Chantal Akerman, . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

No cinematic adaptation of Joseph Conrad should ever be an easy watch, the only way to accurately translate the great author’s works to the screen is to make things as belaboured as possible in order to recreate the feeling of his own brilliant but dense and often frustrating prose. Experimental filmmaker Chantal Akerman understands the assignment and delivers on it, though purists will not be happy with this adaptation of Conrad’s first novel, as it soaks in the atmosphere of the story and maintains its basic characters, but goes nowhere near replicating its plot with more than the barest accuracy (for comparison, it’s about as faithful as Claire Denis’ Beau Travail was to Billy Budd, though not nearly as juicy).

reads a bit young for the titular role, a Dutch merchant who, by the film’s opening, has already failed in his attempt to cash in on the possible arrival of British imperial business and is now living in a house by the river in a Cambodian village (moved from Indonesia in the original book). His wife has gone mad and his daughter Nina () is living in a boarding school in the city; Nina is his main obsession, his reason for not picking up and going back to Europe, as she is only half-white and it causes him concern for how she will be treated there and who she will marry. When Nina comes back home under negative circumstances, Almayer becomes particularly concerned with determining her fate while himself giving in to his own mental instability.

Blessed with images that mark yet another visually arresting work in Akerman’s canon, this one is hampered by strange and unconvincing casting in the lead roles, Merhar and Marion look more like siblings than father and daughter, and there’s an emotional element missing from his performance to really sell me on the idea that his concern for her is his tragic flaw.

If only the film was as commanding as it is stunning in its pictorial magnificence, but for fans of this great director it won’t be a waste of time.

Toronto International Film Festival: 2011

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