A train wreck of a film whose chaotic, partly improvised story and too-tricky mix of film stocks, image sizes, split-screen effects and color/B&W footage overwhelm some phenomenally beautiful sequences and a memorable performance by Saffron Burroughs. Writer-director Mike Figgis juggles four narratives that play out more-or-less simultaneously and all involve the Hungaria Hotel in Venice. A swarm of filmmakers, led by director Trent Stoken (Rhys Ifans) and producer Jonathan Danderfine (David Schwimmer), are making a Dogma 95 version of Jacobean playwright John Webster's lurid The Duchess of Malfi. They lose their only star, Australian actor Gavin McKay (Jason Isaacs) to a big-budget Ridley Scott film, but the filmmakers and remaining cast including the actors playing the Duchess (Burroughs); her servant and husband, Antonio (Max Beesley); her brothers Ferdinand (Mark Strong) and the Cardinal (Brian Bovell); her maid, Cariola (Mis Maestro) and Ferdinand's spy, Bosola (Heathcote Wiliiams) press forward. Financier Boris (George DiCenzo) and his near-catatonic wife, Greta (Laura Morante), are also staying at the hotel, as is the mysterious Sophie (Stefania Rocca), whose striking resemblance to Greta later comes into play. Meanwhile, pushy, self-proclaimed filmmaker Charlee Boux (Salma Hayek) is making a documentary about the behind-the-scenes turmoil, and lengthy scenes from Stoken's "Duchess" are interspersed with the "real" action. In addition, the hotel's chambermaid (Valentina Cervi) and kitchen manager (Mark Long) slink about the halls at night, kidnapping guests and turning them into human prosciutto. Like Figgis's exhilarating TIME CODE (2000), much of this film unfolds in split screen as many as four and the cast features a bevy of high-profile performers apparently attracted to the opportunity to improvise scenes, shoot on the fly and lend cachet to a quasi-experimental project. Unfortunately, the stunt performances notably Hayek's noisy turn as the vain, hyperactive and monumentally stupid Charlee get in the way of the real ones; only Burroughs's supremely calculating, self-aware and icily poignant Duchess cuts through the insistent buzz of indulgent horseplay and smug self-referentiality. The film's highlights include a gorgeous outdoor masked ball staged for "Malfi" and the darkly funny scene in which cast and crew members regale a prostrate Trent with grievances, thinking he's chosen an eccentric place and time to rest when in fact he's been shot and is bleeding to death.
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: A train wreck of a film whose chaotic, partly improvised story and too-tricky mix of film stocks, image sizes, split-screen effects and color/B&W footage overwhelm some phenomenally beautiful sequences and a memorable performance by Saffron Burroughs. Writ… (more)