A day in the life of a self-destructive British consul in Mexico on the eve of World War II.A day in the life of a self-destructive British consul in Mexico on the eve of World War II.A day in the life of a self-destructive British consul in Mexico on the eve of World War II.
Under the Volcano starts out slowly, following the corpse-like wandering of retired diplomat Geoffrey Firmin as he explores the Day of the Dead and seeks out booze to feed his alcoholism. We're given various clues as to what has left him in such a sodden and rambling state, and we learn that his wife divorced him from abroad. Geoffrey proceeds to drink himself into oblivion, and into the fray enters his erstwhile wife Yvonne... testing the waters as it were for a possible reconciliation. Geoffrey's brother Hugh, recently returned from the Spanish civil war, is at a loss as to where he fits in with regards to their relationship, and also in regards to the world itself. The three decide to take a day trip out of town, with Yvonne and Hugh unsure of where Geoffrey's health and state of mind will literally lead them.
This film is a rambling, elegaic swansong to suntouched dreams fortified by alcohol. These three people try to outrun their demons and replace their mistakes with hollow new plans - Yvonne hopes to start her life anew, but Geoffrey's disgracefully drunken state makes him an unpredictable quantity to bank on, especially in regards to whether he can forgive her for the adultery that left him in such a state. Geoffrey tells a story at one point about a colonial named Blackstone, a man who turned native and disliked the puritans who tried to save him so much that he simply just disappeared into the wilderness. There's obviously something about this story that appeals to Geoffrey as he seems to identify with Blackstone so much that he later tells strangers that it's his name, and you can't help but feel that this is the only solution to the problems at hand that he can truly grasp at. Bubbling underneath the surface of the film all this time is a slowly building sense of doom highlighted by the coming of WWII, the ominous woodwind score, and the film's title itself. Geoffrey alludes to a horrific war story at several points, drawing comparisons with the 30s horror film Mad Love (referred to here as The Hands of Orlac) with his belief that "Some things you can't apologise for", and this quote echoes throughout the film whenever the main characters are forced to come face to face with each other's mistakes.
This won't be a film to everyone's taste, it starts out as something approaching a travel-drama but kind of mutates into outright tragedy in it's second half. At the core of Under the Volcano is a staggering performance from Albert Finney as the drunken diplomat. Finney was more than rightfully nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his realistic depiction of the life of a hopeless drunk... full of whimsy and cheer and rambling anecdotes, treading a fine line between absolute tankdom and lucidness, and tapping into all kinds of ambivalent emotions that would be far too challenging to a less complex and accomplished actor. Too often the drunk in film is shown as either a figure for comedy, fear or tragedy, but never are they shown as realistically as Finney's characterisation here. I could see shades of every pathetic and hilarious drunk I've ever met at a pub or a party in Under the Volcano's Geoffrey Firmin, and the film makes no compromises whatsoever in showing this for what it is. One of the best performances in film.
HIGHLIGHTS: There's nothing quite like a sinister Mexican dwarf grinning while he makes obscene gestures with his hands. I found this bit to be quite offputting and creepy.
- Dec 5, 2009