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  • Not a film I can recommend unless you appreciate a challenge, Hotel Habarati is one I found irritating, then hated, then two days later felt a grudging respect for, and eventually came to like for its innovativeness, boldness and the fact that I couldn't easily get it out of my head.

    It begins in the waiting room of a railway station. There's a bag, apparently left by mistake - although we are of course aware of terrorist threats with unaccompanied baggage. Should you take it to the lost property or catch the person on the train - or just keep it? When Marion opens the bag at home it turns out to contain money in a none too familiar Middle Eastern currency. She and her husband Philippe had planned to take a holiday in Venice together, away from the children. In the end they didn't go, but tell people they have, making it a private joke between them. The bag appears to have an address tag on it with the words Hotel Habarati (only with the first two letters scuffed out). News comes of a bomb that has been found.

    Hotel Harabati starts with some irritating music and seemingly throw away dialogue. The contradictions start to grow and both of the main characters, separately, wonder if they are losing it. The ending, when it comes, totally upsets everything that has gone before. It's a bit like Mulholland Drive where, the first time you see it, you look about you in astonishment wondering whether it's the same movie - only after deep reflection, or maybe multiple viewings, can the linear storyline be constructed.

    Unlike Mulholland Drive, there is no set of clues that eventually signify dream sequences or other ways of making sense of the sudden disconnectedness. The ending has a beauty and serenity that require the viewer to re-examine everything that has gone before and either find many explanations for the events (like the unexpected photos of Venice that appear among family shots when Marion gets her film back from the developers) and the individual psyches of the two main characters. Deliberate contrasts tempt you to question the emotional involvements one way or the opposite way, or even (a possible way out) look at the main part of the film as a purely surreal representation of what Marion and Philippe were going through - but if that is the case, then the inconsistencies could perhaps be explained away factually.

    While Hotel Harabati (De particulier à particulier) invites repeat viewings, I doubt that director Brice Cauvin has provided anything as simple as corner-of-the-screen explanatory clues the way Micahel Haneke did in Hidden (Caché). More probably it has to be grappled with as a work of art that does not necessarily follow normal rules of storytelling. This may leave it open to allegations of pretentiousness, but there is no denying its fascinating appeal.
  • I saw this at a Jewish film festival with the director personally introducing it. He said he likes the audience to have a part in the artistic process of the movie by filling in their own ideas in the deliberately left blanks in the movie. I think it's OK to have audiences think a bit about aspects of a movie but this one had so many huge gaps and plot contradictions that my brain hurt at the end and it was just a confusing irritating experience. From near the start where the whole question of what the couple did instead of traveling to Venice as planned is left unanswered, to the middle where synagogue scenes are shown which lead nowhere, to the end which is apparently supposed to give some sort of emotional catharsis, the movie is a disjointed mass of confusion. The male lead gives a one expression performance throughout - morose bewilderment. In relation to this hotchpotch of fragments I can only echo his feelings.
  • writers_reign15 November 2013
    Warning: Spoilers
    I'm guessing that Monty Clift lookalike Laurent Lucas phoned this one in, which wouldn't have been all that difficult as he'd already made it the previous year under a different title, Lemmings. Indeed, it is part of a recent trend in French cinema, mostly by minor directors, titles like La Moustache, and Cache also spring to mind; in each case something that seems insignificant - a man deciding to shave off his moustache after sporting if for several years, a small creature trapped in a drainage system, or, in this case, a suitcase seemingly abandoned at a railway station - turns out to have far-reaching and life-changing repercussions often involving a marriage fragmenting and one partner abandoning the marital home. So it is here and, as with The Moustache, when the husband moved to Hong Kong and was finally tracked down by the wife, here it is the wife who flees and is eventually reunited with the husband in Shangri- La East. Little Ado About Even Less.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I just saw this movie at the Berlin Film Festival and it was one of the disappointments of this year's festival. The movie starts off quite interesting. A young couple ends up at a train station with a bag of a stranger. They decide to take it home with them. Actually they wanted to go on a trip to Venice that day but they finally stay home and explore the bag. It's full of Arabian bank notes and carries a token of a place called '(Ho)tel Harabati'. Now the movie shows that these signs are enough to make the couple suspicious till the edge of paranoia. The paranoia gets worse when the woman picks up photos and finds pictures of Venice mixed with pictures of her and her children. So she gets more and more strange and her distances himself more and more from her. Until here the movie is quite nice, but now she decides to go to "(Ho)tel Harabati" and he follows her. And it turns out that "Hotel Harabati" is actually "Tel Harabati" a beautiful valley where they live happily ever after. And this ending really spoils the film. It's so clischee, that the two Europeans go somewhere, and this somewhere is even shown as a place far from civilization what makes it worse, and find their inner peace and harmony. This break of two parts is even mirrored in the images and the telling of the plot. The images of the first part are interesting and with a great awareness for colors (quite common in french cinema) while the images of Syria are just like in hundreds of other movies. The speed of the story is quite slow from the beginning but for the first three quarters of an hour this is alright, because the characters are really interesting and there are a lot of nice details, but around the half of the movie it really gets long. And longer.