31 July 1999 | Cantoris-2
The several published criticisms linked by IMDB are all over the map about this movie, not only as to their reactions to the art-film mood (a negative reaction to which, although I can't say I really understand, one must admit clearly reflects many people's values and expectations in cinematic entertainment these days), but even as to Brandauer's acting, a craft about which one would think one could be objective.
Well, I'm here to say I liked it all. So art films like this give art films a bad name? And what Hollywood is now serving up as standard fare-- ever-louder explosions, flashier collisions, and interminable series of action scenes so frenetic as to make the whole idea of suspension of disbelief a moot issue-- doesn't give anything whatsoever a bad name? Sorry, beside that I'll be a sucker for woozy art films, if that's what they are, any day. We need a few more.
About a film like this, one is able to ponder, to wonder what might be implied, and to ask questions even about what might not have been implied.
So the acting is poor by giving the impression that the Baron and Mrs. Tuchman, even as they were becoming lovers, loathed each other? This is a real-life possibility, you know. To give just one example: suppose that I have such low self-esteem as to feel unattractive, even a freak, and to take it for granted that no one would take any initiative towards me. Then someone does. What might I feel? Perhaps I'd feel that the other person must be weird too, has a fetish for the kind of freak I am. Furthermore, since I am not worth loving, the other person cannot possibly want to love me, but wants something less worthy from me. Because I loathe myself, I must loathe anyone who gets close to me.
If there is a subtle loathing between these two characters in this film, it is not a flaw, because it is perfectly in order to ponder how or why that might be, beneath the surface: there are things beneath the surface. Not a lot of movies made today would support such a complicated sentiment. One critic, evidently, was too used to them.
Another point to ponder: what did Edmund tell his father? The usual assumption is that, although he intended to reveal his mother's unfaithfulness, at the last minute he drew back and concealed it. I'm not so sure about that. Everything indicates that Mr. Tuchman is a very wise and gentle man, with exceptional insight into the labyrinths of the human heart; and Edmund is a boy who expresses his feelings with a touching forthrightness and sincerity and who despises lying. Just maybe he told the truth, the whole truth: his mother was very lonely, so much that she was taken in and seduced by a very deceitful man, and the incident left her sorry and even more miserable than before. It seems to me that when the father met her again, he knew everything. Diplomat that he was, he realized then that his professional burdens had caused him to neglect his wife, and he was quietly going to make amends. "There is nothing more to say about this." Would such a man be unaware if his own son had just concocted a tissue of lies? It would be quite ironic if he, of all people, congratulated his son for becoming a man due to a successful cover-up. Or is he congratulating him for developing diplomacy: to know the truth but not necessarily to tell the truth in so many words. However it happened, Edmund's father knew and Edmund was the messenger. They had an understanding.
"To know all is to forgive all." Is this what the film suggests? And if so, is it true? These are the questions which perceptive critics should be debating.
One might ponder the echoes of World War I reverberating around the plot. The baron had been wounded by an American soldier. Edmund was an American. Edmund's father was an American. Edmund's mother was not. Perhaps revenge was part of his motives. I hasten to say that I caught no such overtones in Zweig's short story, and would expect none, because he was very much an internationalist. Perhaps we have a subtle innovation on the part of the moviemakers here, but it only increases the interest.
Finally, the baron's behavior towards Edmund, after developing such a blissful friendship with romantic suggestions, was so callous that it could not have done this boy, who was also lonely, any emotional good. And all this to chalk up one more casual female conquest. How much better a man might he have been were he truly interested in Edmund the way he at first appeared to be.