Actors interested in studying other actors’ techniques may well find this film fascinating. As a piece of film storytelling however it is often somewhat perplexing.
The basic plot is fairly straightforward. An ageing theatre director Dan (Bob Goody) and his wife Lydia (Anna Mottram) take a group of actors to a house in Southern France to develop a new play about a man Bertrand (Goody again), who is looking back on his life and marriage. The character of his wife, Elsa, is played by three actresses – Lydia, also his real life wife; Monica (Maxine Finch) who plays the character in her late forties and Kalle (Meret Becker) as the young Elsa. As they work on the characters, art begins to impinge on life, and bring to the surface issues in Dan and Lydia’s real marriage.
The film opens intriguingly with Lydia being questioned on camera by unseen interrogators about her marriage to “Bertrand”. Actors will recognise this as a technique known as “hot seating”, which enables an actor to go more deeply into his or her own character. Non actors however may here, and also elsewhere in the film, get confused between the characters in the play and the “real” role the actors are playing.
Also confusing is the presence of some of the other “real” characters who appear. Lydia has long conversations via Skype with a woman whom one assumes is a close friend back home. She also talks to an unidentified woman in a blue dress, whom nobody else seems to see. A ghost? A younger Lydia? Not at all clear. The house where they are working is being sold we gather. But does it belong to Dan and Lydia or to the middle aged man with whom Lydia discusses it?
The dialogue is all improvised and very convincingly. These are skilful and experienced actors who know their craft. But with no formal script in place, maybe this is why there are these puzzling holes in the story telling?
Despite the narrative puzzles there are also some beautiful and entrancing sequences. A young woman, whom we later discover is Lydia and Dan’s daughter, manipulates a man sized puppet, with which Lydia and Kalle interact in a dance sequence. It is beautiful. The scenes between Dan and Lydia have the convincing familiarity of two people who have known each other for a lifetime – the two actors have collaborated together with director Jon Sanders on many projects over the years. Mottrram in particular is a very strong and charismatic performer. And the multi talented Becker, as well as acting as Kalle and the character Kalle plays, demonstrates her other talents as a singer and on the “glass harp” – wine glasses filled with various levels of water, so you can get different notes. While the French countryside, never identified as a specific region, looks gorgeous through the lens of cinematographer David Scott.
If you’re interested in acting, the way actors create a character and the sometimes threatening way that fact and fiction can affect each other, you will find a lot to interest you in this film. A more general audience however, who just wants to be told a straightforward story, may find the unanswered questions in the narrative frustrating and lose patience.