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France 1968
Directed by
Orson Welles
58 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Immortal Story

Made for television, this adaptation of an Isak Dinesen short story is thematically very Wellesian – an extremely rich but miserly old man (played by Welles) at death’s door enlists the help of his Jewish secretary (Roger Coggio) to recreate a story he has heard about in which a wealthy old man hires a sailor for a night to bed his wife. As the wife, the secretary hires the daughter (Jeanne Moreau) of Clay’s former partner whom he bankrupted and drove to suicide.

Welles’s first film in colour, The Immortal Story revisits similar themes to Citizen Kane and Confidential Report (aka Mr Arkadin), namely the notion of a powerful man attempting to bend the world to his will. The idea of realizing this through the God-like task of turning fiction into reality is an intriguing one although one wonders if it would not have been more satisfyingly realized by a director such as Bergman rather than Welles whose propensity for theatrical gravitas arguably overwhelms it (exemplified by the brooding, bewhiskered figure of Welles himself). This is quite aside from Welles's characteristic trials and tribulations in getting the film made.

Supposedly set in Macao, the setting looks more like Spain which was indeedwhere exteriors were shot, Jeanne Moreau who was 40 at the time is too old and hard in character for Norman Eshley, an actor who has had a solid career in British television but was a poor choice for the naive young sailor. Even Welles himself with his inexplicable theatre-like make-up is a relatively inert presence. Only Roger Coggio brings an effective presence to the screen.

Welles gives the story a dream-like quality, imbuing proceedings with langorously melancholy rhythms and thanks to cinematographer, Will Kurant, making it look at times quite painterly. Whether however, Bergman's probingly analytic manner might not have been suited is worth considering. As it is the physical tends to trump the metaphysical.

DVD Extras: Audio Commentary by Dr Adrian Martin of Monash University; an insert essay by Dr Adrian Danks, RMIT University. The DVD has both the English and French versions of the film.

Available from: Madman




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