Chantal Akerman’s loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s first novel (published in 1895) is as assured and sublime as her page-to-screen transfer of Marcel Proust in La Captive (2000). Opening with an extraordinary scene—the stabbing of a club performer lip-synching to Dean Martin’s “Sway”—Almayer’s Folly unfolds as something of a hallucinatory nightmare, which, Akerman astutely intimates, might be the best way to describe the legacy of colonialism. The European trader of the title, who is slowly descending into madness, is played by Stanislas Merhar (the same actor who starred in La Captive). Living deep in the Malaysian jungle sometime during the mid-20th century, Almayer obsesses over the welfare of his mixed-race daughter, Nina, whose mother, a local woman, has disappeared. After Nina is kicked out of a convent-style boarding school in the city, she falls in love with a Malay rebel fighter—sending her father, now financially as well as mentally destroyed, into further despair. In a film rife with indelible set pieces, perhaps none makes a greater, more devastating impression than the six-and-half-minute close-up of Merhar, crying out in vain for deliverance.
“Border crossing, or ruminating about being on the other side of a border, has long been a key part of Ms. Akerman’s films. She often seems to be feeling out the muscle memory of exile in her camera movements and framing, but here the stasis of Almayer’s existence is intensely felt. Shooting the film in Cambodia, Ms. Akerman may well be going farther afield than in her hybrid nonfiction work in the past two decades (…) Yet for all the leafy exteriors and chugging boats, Almayer is very much inside even when he’s out.”
Nicolas Rapold, The New York Times
Chantal Ackerman, based on the eponymous novel by Joseph Conrad.
Almayer: Stanilas Merhar
Nina: Aurora Marion
Capitaine Lingard: Marc Barbé
Daïn: Zach Andrianasolo
LANGUAGE French, English, Khmer
RUNNING TIME 127’
PRODUCTION Belgium and France, 2011
RATING Not rated
FORMAT(S) 35, DCP, DVD
Big World Pictures