It’s art imitating life imitating art.
Boris Arkadin (Jeroen Krabbé) is a horror director who lost his pregnant wife to an attack by a group of fans who wanted to replicate part of one of his films; his son survived an amateur caesarian. This left him less interested in making another horror film and he faded into hermitage. Years later, Arkadin is making a new film, and so casts eager young things Wendy Jones (Lisa Enos), Jack (Joe Reegan), Pamela (Teri Harrison), and Matt Drazin (Sharif Rosales-Webb)….
For those of you who weren’t able to guess from the title of the film, Arkadin has gone a little bit around the bend since the massacre. The survival of his son must have seemed the greatest blessing possible after losing his wife and friends, but that would have been a mixed blessing. Since Arkadin’s son (Tudor Necula) was severely brain-damaged due to the lack of oxygen after the death of his mother he’s not really a good companion. Now the director, along with his assistant Leon Bank (Hugo Myatt) and trio of madwomen – X (Lyndsey Marshal) – who has an ‘X’ cut into her forehead – Teeth (Viorica Voda) – who has sharpened teeth – and Youth (Catalina Harabagiu) – who’s … uh … young – decide to stage a snuff film. Oh, I’m shocked.
This film constantly plays with the reality within the film. Wendy’s boyfriend Andy (Alastair Mackenzie) is worried about her – mostly because of his jealousy – and so finds the website that is streaming the snuff film as it’s being made. He runs to the police and, not only do they disbelieve him, but they’re very upset when he convinces them to go check out the situation and so they administer an LAPD special. This seems very much out of character for British police, but I could easily be wrong. Throughout the film the viewer and the characters within in are constantly unsure as to the reality of what they’re seeing, but that’s nothing especially unique in a film.
There is something here about the nature of art. Here, art is only looked at as valuable by Arkadin if it pushes the limits of what is allowed. One can hear the writer / director standing up on his soapbox as he speaks through Arkadin against censors and for the eternity of art. Since this film itself hasn’t had much of a release in North America, perhaps his anger is well-placed. Still, it’s a tedious point that’s been addressed many times in art, especially film, to the extent that I found it annoying this time.
The film presents actors as whores who will do anything for attention, no matter how antisocial, cruel, or completely over-the-top bonkers. Essentially, in this film, actors are looked at as the equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church. I mean, really? The actors are willing to strip down, bone each other, and one is happy to tattoo ‘whore’ on his girlfriend’s forehead when he discovers that she’s been getting a pickle tickle from another man. Now, I understand that actors have a hard career ahead of them when they’re just starting out – even the experienced Dennis Hopper was quoted as saying that the only thing he feared was to be out of work while Mercedes Ruehl said in her Oscar acceptance speech that now she’d never waitress again – but isn’t this more than a little extreme? Well, this is one reason I’m happy to avoid actors.
Now, in case anyone missed it, the inspiration for this film is Roman Polanski and the unfortunate business with his wife and friends at the hands of Charles Manson‘s little helpers. The difference, of course, is that Roman Polanski didn’t kill some people on camera – unless you count the cinematic deaths that occurred in MacBeth – as he’s not a monster. Unless you’re an underage girl. I also found this obvious inspiration to be a bit irritating as it was borderline libelous. A bit too much of a wink and a tip of the hat at the audience, something that I’ve never really liked outside of comedies.
That is, in fact, what the final scene or afterword or whatever you’d like to call it, is a wink at the audience. The finale is a bit of teasing the audience as we see the actors getting cast as actors who will then be cast in the movie shown within the movie we’ve just seen. Yes, the movie that was made within the movie we saw was not a documentary but an actual fictional story. So it’s a film within a film within a film. Now the multiple iterations of this might be interesting, but as played out here is nothing more than a twist after twist.
However, being twisty isn’t this film’s weakness, rather, that’s the fact that it takes too goddamned long getting started. Since we, the audience, know that something is rotten in Denmark – probably some kind of horrible fish dish – we sit and wait for the film to actually kick into gear, but that takes about half of the running time. It seems this is part of the reason for the love it or hate it attitude seen throughout the critical community on this film as those with patience are rewarded while those without are bored as stiff as a roadkill frat boy. I, as is usually the case, fall somewhere in between these polar extremes, but that’s not my problem with this film. My issue is that, as clever as it is, it’s not nearly as clever as it’s presented. There’s a lot of good stuff here, but there’s a great deal of dross that needs to be waded through before we get there. In effect, the empress has no clothes, but she’s a looker.