The Immortal Story


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Immortal Story
"Restricted by budget, and talky and cumbersome in places but bears flashes of brilliance that remind you just who is in control of the action."

This made-for-TV fable, adapted by Orson Welles from a story by Out Of Africa author Isak Dinesen, is restricted by budget, and talky and cumbersome in places but bears flashes of brilliance that remind you just who is in control of the action. The nature of its story - which specifically considers the nature of story and of the blur between fact and fiction - is familiar Welles territory, as he considers the strange alchemy that can be worked by love. The film is also concerned with the action of storytelling - the way in which people choose or choose not to recount a tale and, if they do so, the manner in which it is told.

The tale is simple and stars Welles as ageing Macao-based merchant Mr Clay, his complexion every bit as grey as his name and in bleak and bitter contrast to the profusion of rich yellows and reds that the director uses elsewhere (it was his first colour film and he takes to the medium like a bright yellow duck to deep blue water). Lonely and with a reputation for causing sorrow for others, Clay lives alone in his mansion - its vertical bars of railings and balconys giving the air of a prison - where his night-time comfort comes in the form of his Jewish clerk Levinksy (Roger Coggio), who reads him his company accounts. When, one night, Clay orders a departure from the usual facts and figures, he and Levinsky begin to discuss a seaman's yarn that sees a young sailor paid five guineas by a rich merchant to bed his young wife and create an heir. "I don't like prophecies," declares Clay, who is only interested in cast-iron reality - and so the stage is set for him to try to recreate the fable for real.

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Levinsky enlists the help of the, unbeknowst to Clay, far-from-virginal Virginie (Jeanne Moreau), and the merchant picks up a young sailor Paul (Norman Eshley). While Paul is surely the poshest spoken and oldest looking down-on-his luck 17-year-old sailor ever committed to film, his bright blonde hair and piercing blue eyes suggest the innocence Clay has long since lost. As Paul and Virginie spend the night alone, it will hold surprises for everyone.

Welles is at his best in the boudoir, the bed's gauzy curtain acting as a screen between the couple's reality and that of the merchant-controlled environment. At one point, Welles also uses the doorway as a peek-a-boo framing device for Moreau, whose impressive performance mixes world-weariness with sparks of innocence regained. The director's abrupt and clever change of pace to suggest the pair's love making climax is emotionally effective precisely because it is sudden and startling, just one of many flourishes that lift The Immortal Story above the average TV tale.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2015
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Rarely-seen Welles feature about an expat orchestrates a tale of sexual and emotional manipulation.
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Director: Orson Welles

Writer: Karen Blixen, Louise de Vilmorin, Orson Welles

Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Orson Welles, Roger Coggio, Norman Eshley

Year: 1968

Runtime: 58 minutes

Country: France


EIFF 2008

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