Chantal Akerman's newest is a loose adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel of the same name, re-imagining Almayer's "nearly non-existent" daughter as the axis around which her father's story turns. Almayer (Stanislas Merhar) is a white man in third world country, a character of the occidental ruling classes who was guided into business and matrimony in a riverside village. Though he lives well and with servants, his Hamlet-like ennui overcomes him—the greenery that constantly encroaches on his home seems a fitting metaphor for both his self-imposed isolation and his self-satisfied depression. His existential crisis is also moored in an economic condition: he was given this job by the Captain (Marc Barbé), a man of power in the area who directs him and, in some cases, holds him beneath a thumb. But as Almayer is impotent to the Captain's authority, he spends his life wallowing and conceding to his overseer. His daughter, Nina (Aurora Marion), is the only thing connecting him to his loveless marriage and the living world, but the Captain thinks her chances are better if she's educated as a white girl and sends her to a boarding school. Nina, like her father, hates her gilded cage, but as a child of mixed race, her obstacles are greater and wear her down in record speed. When the Captain dies (a scene as mundane as it is striking) a monsoon hits and transforms his home into a floating coffin, effectively ending Nina's tuition at the boarding school. When she returns home she's all scooped out, "my heart is dead," she says (repeating something Akerman's mother said of her survival after the concentration camps). Akerman's created a Phnom Penh that feels perpetual, a world by a river bed that changes so constantly even signifiers of passing time can't adhere. Nina has a talent for singing, an ironic capacity since she's so bereft of feeling, but when she sings she comes into herself. A rhyme is present in the way her father broods: Akerman holds on him as he arcs into self-defeat or (as in the final moments) madness. For Akerman, tracking shots are a tool for characterization and our inching towards a character deepens them as well as our relationship to their world. The film develops with you and thinks through its story seductively, moving with the force of the river that is now and never all at once.
Contact: Doc and Film International, Hwa-Seon Choi
Director/Screenwriter: Chantal Akerman
Producer: Chantal Akerman, Patrick Quinet
Genre: Drama; French-language, subtitled
Running time: 127 min.
Release date: August 10 NY