Shot in B&W and colorized in jewel-toned washes of red, gold and blue, this fable, set in a desolate bathhouse run by a blind man and his devoted son, recalls the films of Buster Keaton by way of the dark fantasies of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Juenet. Anton (Denis Lavant) tries to spare his blind, elderly father, Karl (Philippe Clay), the knowledge that...read more
Shot in B&W and colorized in jewel-toned washes of red, gold and blue, this fable, set in a desolate bathhouse run by a blind man and his devoted son, recalls the films of Buster Keaton by way of the dark fantasies of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Juenet. Anton (Denis Lavant) tries to spare his blind, elderly father, Karl (Philippe Clay), the knowledge that the ornate family bathhouse is slowly deteriorating, and the pool is no longer a thriving attraction. But he's fighting a losing battle: There are few customers, the pipes leak, the walls are crumbling and the bizarre, Rube Goldberg-esque generator that powers everything from the lights to the water pumps must be carefully tended to lest it overheat and explode. Anton's dreary existence is brightened by the lissome Eva (Chulpan Hamatova), who arrives one day with her father for a swim. But Anton's brother, Gustav (Djoko Rossich), who wants desperately to tear the place down, engineers an accident that claims the life of Eva's dad and turns her heart against Anton. Gustav then arranges for a building inspection, and the inspector (E.J. Callahan) finds the bathhouse deficient in many respects. With the clock ticking, Anton must figure out a way to bring the place up to snuff and to reclaim Eva's affections. Shot almost entirely in an old bathhouse in Sofia, Bulgaria (with a brief beachside detour to Varna, on the Black Sea), this quixotic comedy is almost entirely without dialogue (what little there is is mostly in English), relying on gestures and broad facial expressions to carry the plot forward. Amid many whimsical tableaux, writer-director Veit Helmer composes some astonishingly beautiful images, including a candle-lit, Viking-style funeral in the pool and a sequence in which the naked Eva frolics underwater while holding onto a small fishbowl that contains a serenely swimming goldfish. The film's tone is a matter of taste the more you enjoy the melancholy silent comedies of Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, the more likely you are to embrace its sensibility but it's undeniably the product of a singular and beautifully realized vision.
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