Significant Other in a Coma

I’d never gotten around to Jeremy Irons’ Oscar-winning turn in REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, but was finally spurred on by a few things. Viewing director Barbet Schroeder’s fascinating feature doc TERROR’S ADVOCATE led me to suspect the film might provide a more nuanced view of legal ethics than hitherto suspected, and recent appearances in the news by Alan Dershowitz, who is portrayed in the film, and Felicity Huffman, who acts in it, further sparked my curiosity.

Huffman’s appearance in the flick, giving a perfectly decent performance in vivid contrast to the sort of behaviour she’s been charged with, isn’t specially revealing. The representation of Dershowitz, now a bloviating Trump mouthpiece, is more intriguing. The seeds are present here.

Though a lot of the film’s interest comes from creepy touches like Sunny Von Bulow’s narration from her coma bed (beautifully performed by Glenn Close), Irons’ bravely accurate rendition of Claus Von B.’s distinctive and very weird mode of speech, and Ron Silver’s typically robust performance as Dershowitz, a good deal of the fascination now stems from the ambiguity in the way this figure is presented. Though Schroeder’s filming is a bit too dependent on the Steadicam for my liking, with shots floating about aimlessly when they could have been more tightly rendered with traditional tracks (perhaps the schedule was oppressively tight?), he does well with the story, characters and issues explored in Nicholas Kazan’s script.

In TERROR’S ADVOCATE, we hear the story of Jacques Vergès, a lawyer who started out defending, based on his political convictions, of various Algerian freedom fighter’s/terrorists, and follow his path from this to acting as legal advisor to a mindbogglingly array of war criminals, dictators and serial killers. The slow decay of the moral sense, or just a successful career progression?

ROF is very interesting on the ethical dilemmas a lawyer may face, and when the film uses the same arguments as THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLYNT to show that every accused person deserves a good lawyer — “I may not like Claus Von Larry Flynt-Bulow, but etc” — it does so with more nuance, with the sense that this may be a slippery slope fraught with peril. Silver, looking like a sort of Groucho Einstein, plays Dershowitz with enough compassion to be compelling and enough beady-eyed critique to make us feel that this flawed and morally rather flexible figure could turn into the televisual apparition we now all know and regard with revulsion. For the lawyer who fights a monstrous system becoming a monster may be a professional hazard.

Nicest directorial touch, for me: standard-issue helicopter shot credits, but sailing over palatial residence after palatial residence, as Mark Isham’s score pours a kind of heartsick malaise over the top of it all.

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE stars the Marquise de Merteuil; Beverly & Elliot Mantle; Eugene Hunt; Angie Tucci; Frieda Maloney; Constance Bulworth; Lynette Scavo; and Elaine Dickinson.

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7 Responses to “Significant Other in a Coma”

  1. Bonsoir, Pour moi son mari n’est pas entièrement coupable, il a tardé à la retrouver dans la salle de bains. Mais il ne faut pas oublier qu’elle se nourrissait très mal en fonction de son état faisait du n’importe quoi. Il y avait de son côté à lui c’est sur une lassitude mais il était tout de même présent. Le coma n’est pas dû à lui ou par une assistance pas assez rapide auprès d’elle.

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Barbet “Dances with Darkness” like few auteurs in the history of the cinema. Note his “Idi Amin Dada” (I did the notes for the criterion DVD) and the astonishing moment where it’s clear that Idi Amin is seriously thinking of having Barbet killed. My favorite of his dramatic films is “Our Lady of The Assassins” which is about gay teenage hitmen working for the Columbian drug cartel. Among his “Films du Commande” I recommend “Murder By Numbers” and his episode of “Mad Me,” His very personal Bukowski-scripted “Barfly” stars Faye Dunaway and Mickey Rourke at their best. “Koko, a Talking Gorilla” is among the most delightful of his documentary films. I strongly recommend he return to Dershowitz again to do for hom what he did for Jacques Verges.

    As if all this weren’t enough Barbet’s career as a producer her make him primarily responsible for the great Eric Rohmer.

    And leave us not forget Barbet’s performance as “Monsieur” in “Celine and Julie Go Boating”

  3. Damn, I’ll have to look at his episode of Mad Men now. Still, it justifies me owning DVDs of the whole run which apparently I’m never going to run.

  4. James S Says:

    The main thing I remember about this is that in the 80s when this was being made, Dershowitz was very, very keen on being portrayed by Woody Allen, and this very nearly happened (around this time Allen also considered acting in the Bill Murray flick “What About Bob?”)

    I wonder how that would’ve changed the film now?

  5. Argh! You have just blown my mind and I don’t think we’d have any idea how to feel about such a performance… especially given the suspicions voiced in low murmurs about Dershowitz’s connection to Jeffrey Epstein. The thing would have child abuse accusations hanging off each end.

  6. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Those “low murmurs” have become loud screams in recent weeks. One might well say of Dersh what he said of Claus:

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