Archive for Derek Jacobi

Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost’s Scenes #5b

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2022 by dcairns

OK, I’ll finally be finished with Branagh now.

The second appearance of Old king Hamlet in Kenneth Branagh’s looooooooong HAMLET has a few things I like in it. But is terrible. Let’s see if we can find out why!

I do not hate the intercutting of Hamlet in fast tracking shot with quick cuts of earthly eruptions — it’s kind of an illustration of the text, it creates a visceral excitement. It’s a forced, hammy excitement, in my view, but I can see how other people might dig it. Thrown into the Cuisinart are also quick shots of the big corpse lying in state and so on. Straight-up illustrating what the character’s talking about is the coward’s way out when it comes to Shakespearian cinema, but I will admit, we can follow what Hamlet is on about.

It’s not at all clear that Hamlet Jr. is following Hamlet Sr., or that he has any good reason to think he’s trotting in the right direction. But apparently he is.

Then there’s a spooky moment with Brian Blessed’s disembodied voice, heavily electronically treated, as Hamlet looks around an empty glade. Acceptable, except for the voice — given the setting, a more or less NORMAL voice that cannot be PLACED would be more authentically scary.

And then Branagh attempts a jump scare by having the ghost appear out of nowhere, grab Hamlet, and fling him into a tree. For no reason. It doesn’t make any sense.

The TV sketch show Spitting Image had a strange influence on the world — it may have actually influenced the UK public’s view of its politicians (sadly, not always in the way intended — and it also caused Greta Scacchi to refuse to go nude in THE PLAYER after they did a sketch pointing out how she was always naked, and suggesting (satirically — and quite untruthfully) that she insisted on this. Robert Altman was apparently pretty shitty about her refusal.

The show also spoofed Brian Blessed as an actor who likes shouting. They had writer John Mortimer, in puppet form, pitching a show where BB would play a very quiet man. “Who SHOUTS all the time? I love it!” roars the puppet Blessed. “No, no, he’s very soft-spoken!” “Then why is he always SHOUTING?”

I have a vague theory that either Branagh or Blessed saw this and thought it would be great to cast BB in something where he only whispers, to show his versatility. Unfortunately (1) Gielgud had beaten them to it and (b) Gielgud gains power by his whisper, he becomes more dominating, and Blessed loses power. Plus the fact that it’s a very enunciated, very loud STAGE whisper, and electronically treated, makes it rather silly. And one-note.

All the theatrics have nothing to do with psychology, or any credible notion of the supernatural and its rules within this story world. And I don’t know, but on a basic level a fat ghost feels wrong. (In the Olivier, the ghost is erect, straight up and down, but Hamlet’s father, in flashback, is a bit rolly-polly).

Brian Blessed for Player King. Charlton Heston as Ghost. There, fixed it.

We are being asked to believe that Julie Christie was married to Brian Blessed and then was won away by Derek Jacobi. These relationships raise a lot of questions the movie/play can’t answer. It’s probably quite helpful if Claudius is a good-looking guy, sexy, and maybe Hamlet Sr. is noble-looking but stern and not so sexy. Hamlet shows his mother miniature paintings of both men, trying to show to her what a bad choice she’s made. When Branagh does this with pictures of Blessed and Jacobi, it’s hilarious.

(The Zeffirelli pretty much nails this requirement.)

I don’t hate the Japanese ghost story trick of the light fading up on BB’s silhouetted face. Though I think that kind of thing works better if the scene is taking its time. I understand how, with a four hour text, they felt the need to rush everything — one more reason not to do the whole text.

Giving Brian contact lenses and ordering him not to blink makes his ghost rather… blank. Basically, all these restrictions turn the Ghost into a bore.

Random angle change! About time we had one of those. In fact, there were lots as Hamlet was haring through the woods, but they came as a cluster and you could call that a consistent stylistic approach. Here we’re in a shot / reverse shot dialogue scene and the abrupt profile at 1.39 is jarring a.f. It’s all about ENERGY!

More bubbling and seething ground, feels like the same footage we had before, now step-printed for some mysterious reason. This serves to distract attention away from the Ghost quoting Bertie Wooster, possibly a good thing. Actually, BB says “like quills upon the fretful porcupine,” instead of “porpentine,” which is what we have in Shakespeare’s text. I suppose this is OK. “He clearly MEANT to write porcupine,” says Branagh, rapping his knuckles against the playscript, whap! It could easily be a mistranscription. I favour cutting the line, it’s too amusing post-Wodehouse, and for those of us who know the text somewhat, correcting it is a distraction.

It may be that Branagh felt “I’m doing the WHOLE play” was a USP which alone justified doing this six years after Zeffirelli.

Brian’s “O list!” is just FUNNY. Which isn’t what we’re going for here.

When we get the big Rosebud mouth closeup on “murder” Branagh does something sort of interesting, I will admit — the repeated prosthetic shot of the ear, bulging and seeping as it reacts to the “leprous distillment” recently funnelled into it. The sound effect is interesting too — it’s basically redolent of a speed change, as if the editor is yanking the dial on his Steenbeck. I kind of like it, I think it could be used again in some other context, probably more effectively, but it’s an interesting notion.

Both Hamlet and dad get profile shots now. An ineffective, inexpressive, un-atmospeheric choice which diminishes the performances — perhaps no bad thing in Branagh’s case, but BB is playing this blind, stationary, whispering, and now his face is reduced to a hissing outline. Give the poor man something. Not too much! But something.

Now we get the flashback, the least effective part of the Olivier version, ported over and rendered preposterous by the film’s insistence on making everything Christmassy. Hamlet Sr. sleeps in his orchard, in the snow. OK, he has a fur rug and a fire and a pot of tea. But still, I do not believe it. Also, Shakespeare has him asleep so the poison can be poured into his ear — we have to imagine him lying on his side.

Branagh’s turn to be ridiculous, as he positively gibbers “Oh my prophetic soul,” a line that demands a certain simplicity (Just Say The Fucking Line is a good direction sometimes) so as not to sound fruity and overcooked. Branagh now cuts away to the uncle on the line “uncle”, which is just unforgivable. Zeffirelli does something similar, later, but at least the uncle is THERE in his version. Branagh is so anxious for us to understand, it’s rather pathetic. This turns into an entire flashback showing the Hamlet family enjoying a game of curling. Floor frisbees. Not indicated in the text. Mad.

“Brief let me be!” (4.28) Brian turns, I would have to say theatrically, from his profile shot to look right into the lens. Hysterical. Yes please, Brian, be brief, if you think you can manage it.

Wrong ear, Brian!

Brian’s death scene, played in fake slow motion. Awful. It isn’t any good in the Olivier, either. A fat guy falling out of his lawn chair is never going to be convincingly tragic. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in Elsinore’s Funniest Home Videos.

Among the many reasons this is ineffective is the sheer redundacy of having the story told in blank verse AND show in herky-jerky visuals. But Branagh needs to liven up his totally static exposition scene. Having the ghost walk — as he says he has been condemned to do — would be one way to keep the thing on its feet.

But even if Branagh had kept the scene developing visually by having the characters MOVE, his ghastly flashback are probably necessary because the scene is so damn long. But just showing you the exact thing Hamlet Sr. is saying isn’t a solution. It makes me nostalgic for the curling.

Surprisingly, Branagh chooses NOT to show the glow-worm paling his ineffectual fire, but he does helpfully put a cock-crow on the soundtrack. Visually, the ghost’s disappearance is decent, but Patrick Doyle’s score now comes syruping into the mix, giving everything a solemnity that seems to, I don’t know, FLATTER Hamlet and his vengeance quest. I don’t think you have to see the Prince as a psychopath, though he is definitely adolescent and shitty at times. But this emotion, here, seems utterly wrong.

Branagh has a tendency, in this role, to suggest extremes of grief by making his voice go UP into a sort of timorous squeak, and he does this on “O all you host of heaven!” (6.52) and it’s laugh-out-loud material.

Looking at what this production needs to make it work totally dismantles every salient feature of… this production. Branagh the actor needs a director. The director needs a better actor. The text needs cutting. The cast need swapping around. (In the whole huge crowd, the only one who seems like he could play Claudius is Don Warrington, who would be awesome. He has the nothing role of Voltimand.)

Branagh falling face down in the dry ice, in a Keatonesque flat wide, is pretty funny. Having him say “O earth!” TO the earth is, I guess, a reasonable choice, if a tad literal-minded (“literal” is this film’s keynote). Branagh now builds to a big slobbering climax lying on his gut, spitting into the fake snow. Again, Olivier had all this worked out — when Shakespeare’s text requires an actor to build to a big climax, the camera should move AWAY rather than, in the conventional way, IN. Because we do not which to see the character SPIT. Because a big performance is acceptable only from a certain distance. This was embarrassingly obvious in Branagh’s saliva-drenched HENRY V, and we already had the example of Olivier getting it right in HIS HENRY V and TELLING US ABOUT IT. This is Branagh’s THIRD Shakespeare film.

“My tables!” Branagh briefly gestures here — Hamlet wishes he had his tables on him, but doesn’t. I think that’s OK. You need to do something with the line, if you’re keeping it. I think having him take out his tables and write would be a good choice. That’s what the stage directions say, although we know Shakespeare didn’t write those. It seems plausible that “Writing” was put in there because that’s what the actor playing Hamlet did. When he says “So, Uncle, there you are,” this makes sense if he’s written “Uncle.” Branagh just looks confused when he says the line. As well he might.

Branagh kisses his sword — a swipe from Olivier. But that’s OK. Borrowings which work are a good thing. Better than the multiple ineffective choices, blunders and bad laughs we’ve had in the past few minutes.

Mad in Craft

Posted in FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2022 by dcairns

Why? Why did I watch Kenneth Branagh’s HAMLET?

Apparently I was curious about it. But not so curious that I watched it in 1996. That would have made sense — I could have seen in in 70mm. I watched it this week.

I was curious about it being the full four hour unexpurgated play, but I came to believe that by not cutting, Branagh had given up a big part of the adaptor’s toolkit — directors typically choose what parts of the play to emphasise, they focus in, by cutting. And, while I can see doing it uncut on the stage makes sense, any uncut Shakespeare text on the screen is likely to suffer from redundancy as the characters take their time describing things we can SEE. Oh boy did that happen here.

I should give Branagh credit where possible: he makes the thing go at a fair lick. And when ones’ eyes and ears have not actually gone blurry, you can still tell what the people are saying. Sometimes, it is true, you wonder why everyone is in such a frenzy when there’s not so much happening, and often, it is true, you feel that a momentary dramatic pause would bring out a lot more meaning than the relentless jabber.

The film is cast in a racially-blind manner, before it was fashionable or popular, and this is good. Hamlet is totally a play you can do this with, and any call for realism can be dismissed outright since the characters are (a) speaking blank verse and (b) not speaking Danish. There are no important Black characters, but there are quite a few minor ones, and one of those is the excellent Don Warrington.

Branagh has a certain boldness. My friend Paul Duane calls him “the worst director who has ever lived,” and he is, essentially, correct, but Branagh does things which are wrong in surprising ways, not just in boring ways, so I can still find him preferable to, say, Richard Attenborough. Who turns up here, because, of course he does.

OK, I think I’m done being nice. It wasn’t a very impressive display of positives, I admit.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore Collection/REX (1596346a) Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh Film and Television

Branagh’s boldness is manifest in the uncut text, in the 70mm format, in a certain gusto with which he throws the camera around, and in the chaotic mix-and-match approach to casting. The guiding aesthetic principle here is the Dunning-Kruger effect. Branagh swirls the Steadicam around his cast, goes into slomo, cuts furiously, because he does, at least, know he CAN, but doesn’t know whether, from moment to moment, he should or should not. We’re on random.

Similarly, Branagh throws together the classically trained theatrical knight, the movie star, the sitcom actor, with gay abandon — it’s admirable in theory — you can see it being exciting — but everybody is playing the wrong part. Brian Blessed — fruity ham — is the ghost. Charlton Heston — grim-visaged axiom of cinema — is the player king. Swap them around and you’d have something.

Jack Lemmon — a potentially fine Polonius — is Marcellus, essentially a random spear-carrier. You wonder why he’s the only American spear-carrier. And whether he’s a bit old for active duty. Richard Briers, a good sitcom actor, is Polonius. And it’s true that Polonius is the most sitcomlike character, and also true that Briers suppresses his natural affability to play the man as a more creepy and august figure, it doesn’t always work.

All the play’s double-acts are mismatched: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two interchangeable doofuses, are Timothy Spall and Reece Dinsdale, a grotesque and a normie. The two gravediggers are Billy Crystal and Simon Russell Beale, Borscht belt and Stratford. Crystal is possibly my favourite performance in the thing: he isn’t funny, his stuff with Beale is a snooze, but there’s a provocative sense of challenge when he’s matched with Branagh. One is a movie star and the other only thinks he is because he has no sense upon which to base his judgement. The result is tension, and the only place where the cutting back and forth between characters adds any excitement.

How badly cast is this film? We are asked to believe that Derek Jacobi has stolen Julie Christie away from Brian Blessed.

Jacobi — always cast as men called Claudius, is miscast as Claudius here. He’s not an impressive opponent. He does OK.

Branagh has realised one thing, I think, but he’s realised it in the edit: the shot/countershot cuts only work when we see who’s talking. It must have been discovered that reaction shots make you lose the thread of the speeches. Or else it was assumed. The result is a Dragnet approach to cutting, where every cut is on the end of a speech, cueing up the reply. I love Dragnet but it has a deliberately inexpressive cutting pattern, suitable for procedurals.

What Shakespeare needs, I suspect, and could very well get in a 70mm film, is dynamic blocking and long-held wide shots where everyone can act together in real time. There’s very, very little of that here, though there are plenty of scenes where the camera just circles the actors for no good reason. This is Branagh’s third Shakespearean adaptation so you would think he’d have a working theory of montage and mise-en-scene.

Olivier went into HENRY V with a plan: he knew that Shakespeare’s more rousing speeches seem to necessitate a certain building to a climax by the actor. The traditional approach to long scenes in the movies is to move closer. Olivier sussed that this would result in us looking right up his nose just as he was really getting into it with the yelling and gesticulating, so he reversed the pattern, very consciously: as Henry builds to a climax, the camera pulls back.

Actual saliva bubble

Branagh never realised that when he made his own HENRY V, so the film is a spittle-flecked shoutfest in which the King spends a lot of time screaming right in our ear. It’s distracting when you see saliva blasting forth in great gobs: it’s only appropriate to do spit if that’s the only thing you want the audience to notice.

Here we are, after MUCH ADO, and Branagh is still drenching the scenery with his face. He gets started early, when he meets the ghost. This is very bad: we have about three and a half hours to go at this point. How’s he going to top this? Shit, what happens when he goes/plays mad?

Plenty. The Dane froths, simpers, screams, and his voice goes comically high to suggest strong emotion. One of my favourite out-of-control performances is Alan Arkin’s last scene in LITTLE MURDERS. It’s huge and manic and (bouncing) off-the-wall. But it’s one scene. He builds to it, and then he stops. Branagh does have quiet moments — the only scene I’d seen excerpted from this was, predictably, “To be or not to be,” which is perfectly OK, and calm. But he spends about an hour running about doing full loony.

Kate Winslet, at least, is only wildly over-the-top for one scene.

As the film trundled on, I found myself no longer able to notice how badly directed it was. I had lost the aesthetic sense. I was in Branaghworld. But the opening scenes really pop and zing with ineptitude, and cry out for close analysis. I think it’d be fun to look at scenes from the Branagh, Olivier and Richardson HAMLETs, as I previously did with three varied MACBETHs.

But not this scene. This scene I just include because it made me giggle. I’m not even sure why. Do you find it funny? I’ve written before about how certain actors should be put at the tip of an A composition because they can’t help but distract from the big foreground heads. Turns out Jack Lemmon is one. Everything he does is more interesting than what Hamlet and Horatio do, even when he’s just titling screen left so Horatio won’t block him from view (00.13).

But the funnier stuff is inside. Partly it’s weird because we see a normal door, and then Branagh cuts back and forth between two groups in the narrow doorway, and they both have the same background. Despite the fact that the camera angles must, presumably, be at least 90 degrees apart. This is called “cheating” and I generally approve of it — to hell with continuity, make the shots effective. Here it becomes subtly discombobulating and hilarious.

(Louis Malle said he was fond of shooting the closeups in a shot/countershot sequence against the exact same background, but I haven’t looked out examples to see how he gets away with it. He mentioned it in connection with ZAZIE so he may have been after the exact dizzy effect Branagh stumbles upon here.)

But there’s just something about the Dragnet cutting-on-dialogue that becomes hysterical to me when the actors build up a froth and the cutting gets faster. Thespian tennis. What do you think?

HAMLET stars Hercule Poirot; Martin Beck; Petulia Danner; Young Iris Murdoch; King Vultan; Sir Robert Peel; Smee; Airey Neave; Miracle Max; Lavrenti Beria; J.M.W. Turner; Sherlock Holmes; C.C. Baxter; Lenin; Cyrano de Bergerac; Dr. Satnam Tsurutani; Judah Ben-Hur; Aunt May; Johnny Rotten; Philip Smith; Popeye; Iris Murdoch; Lord Raglan; Sid Luft; Pinkie Brown; Captain R.F. Scott R.N.

Beck #2: Long Distance Call

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2022 by dcairns

THE MAN WHO WENT UP IN SMOKE is an outlier — Martin Beck is sent to Hungary in search of a vanished journalist, his stated mission being to avoid an international incident, and spends his time wandering about in a desultory manner. The Beck books’ rich supporting cast do get to take part a little, though, via phone calls, investigations back in Stockholm, and for the last act when Beck returns home and (spoiler) solves the case.

Sjöwall and Wahlöö were evidently well-read in crime fiction and had seen a lot of movies: the next volume in the series seems to show the influence of Fritz Lang’s M, one of the first procedurals (predating Anthony Boucher’s coining of the term “procedural” in 1956, and his earliest literary example, V as in Victim, written by Lawrence Treat in 1945).

Big spoiler follows in the invisible (up in smoke) para below. Highlight it with your cursor if you want to read it.

(The central twist of TMWWUIS is that the journalist who has vanished in Budapest never actually went to Budapest. He was murdered at home in Sweden the night before his scheduled departure. His killer, an approximate lookalike, decided to throw investigators off the scent by stealing the victim’s passport and plane ticket, flying to Hungary and then mysteriously disappearing (sneaking back home and resuming his own identity). It’s a neat trick, and was still neater when James M. Cain thought up the basis for it in Double Indemnity. Maj & Per not only change the details, but plays the story backwards, following the investigator deceived by the trick, rather than the perpetrator/s.)

As a reading experience, TMWWUIS is maybe the least compelling of the series (Steady on: I’ve only read the first five, there may be other low points to come, but so far they seem to be improving if anything.) Even Beck marvels at how disengaged he is from this case, after becoming obsessed with the Roseanna McGraw murder the year before. But the twist is great, and the short appearances by the supporting cast of cops are very enjoyable: Kollberg is shaping up very nicely, and there’s a tiny appearance by the bumbling duo of Kristiansen & Kvant, lazy and stupid patrol cops, who will go on to provide much of the comedy relief and satirical slant that leavens the dour crimey aspects.

DER MANN, DER SICH IN LUFT AUFLOSTE is a 1980 German coproduction based on the book, starring Derek Jacobi, surprisingly enough, as Beck. I got hold of a low-res rip of a VHS pan-and-scan of a scratchy and discoloured print, dubbed into Russian, with no subtitles. As with ROSEANNA, however, the plot follows the book closely enough for me to vaguely follow it. Unlike ROSEANNA, it wasn’t possible to appreciate the work of director Péter Bacsó or cinematographer Tamás Andor — it seemed zoom-happy and undistinguished, but must have looked nicer when new. Was it always sicklied o’er with a green cast? It’s pretty unpleasant, not at all like the US film of THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, which makes something eerily beautiful out of the tendency of fluorescent lights to photograph green.

Jacobi/Beck is called away from his summer holiday to go on this urgent investigation. We see him at his holiday home with his wife and his topless teenage daughter, but we don’t get much sense of Beck’s disenchantment with his marriage, which he allows to slowly disintegrate as the books go on. It might be implied in the dialogue, though. Did I mention I don’t speak Russian?

The film is a bit of a Europudding, which in fairness the novel invites. Jacobi is surrounded by real Swedes (at least one of whom went on to appear in the long-running Beck TV series and in Wallander) and Hungarians, making his presence a bit odd, but since everyone has had Russian voices transplanted into their throats, he doesn’t particularly stand out. I think he’s the wrong actor for the part, though. Bob Peck would have been good, if you want a British Beck. He even rhymes. But Bob Peck wasn’t particularly on the world’s radar in 1980. (I miss Bob Peck.)

Jacobi is great at nerves. Beck doesn’t really have nerves, he has sinuses and acid indigestion and a sort of grinding low-level glumness. He isn’t colourful, which Jacobi is by nature. Jacobi is an actor who wants to add to what’s on the page, whereas a good Beck actor should want to subtract. You need a man with the legendary minus factor — the kind of guy, as Ken Campbell put it, who is useful because you can bring him into a scene just as it’s threatening to get too interesting.

Jacobi knows what’s called for and gives an admirably low-key performance, but it’s still him giving it.

It being 1980, the fashions and settings are truly hideous, the rather admirable excesses of the 70s falling into a state of sartorial putrefaction. The settings don’t even seem particularly convincing. The white and gold trim of the Swedish Foreign Office strikes me as lurid. It rather smacks of roller disco.

Whenever I see a shot of a jet plane landing, I generally get a sinking feeling. It always feels like a dire way to convey the fact of travel, but cutting to the protagonist at passport control would be lame too, and airports are depressing. Herr Bacsó duly cuts to Jacobi getting his passport checked. The belt and braces approach.

When the film gets to Budapest and the cityscapes get slightly more interesting, the Russian dubbing abruptly gives out, and now the film has a UN-style simultaneous translation, a single Comrade talking over all the Hungarian dialogue in Russian. This, I admit, threw me for a moment. Then the dubbing returns, so it’s only the Hungarian bits this has been done to. So it’s going to keep alternating for most of the rest of the film. That should be fun.

A detective’s life is not actually full of jeopardy — he’s usually at the scene AFTER the unpleasantness has taken place. Sjöwall and Wahlöö have some neat strategies to get around this — by turning over stones in Budapest, Beck will eventually uncover some nastiness not directly related to his case, leading to some suitably unappealing sex and violence. But to keep the audience engaged in the meantime, a filmmaker is going to need (a) an unobtrusive but attractive visual style, and a good theme tune and (b) characterful supporting players. Here, I feel like only the music is good. It’s by Jacques Loussier (JEU DE MASSACRE, DARK OF THE SUN) and it sounds like the death spasms of a drunken dulcimer. Jangly.

The ever-present danger of the police procedural is the plod factor. This film plods. Only the music gives you any sense that anything’s going on. It’s amazing it succeeds so well.

Some of the book’s best stuff involves the Hungarian (secret?) policeman Major Szluka, played by Ferenc Bács here. The whiff of cold war paranoia seems heavily diluted here, perhaps because it’s a Hungarian coproduction with a Hungarian director (should perhaps have been a Swedish or German director so Budapest could be viewed through an outsider’s eyes, aligning us with Beck). In the book, Beck and Szluka come to an understanding as fellow professionals, but the edgy, uncertain start of the relationship is one of the key sources of tension in what’s otherwise quite a pedestrian investigation.

Derek Jacobi, action hero! The fight scene is as flat as everything else — though Sjöwall and Wahlöö are quite capable of describing things from a detached perspective, the (highly unusual) assault on Beck by members of the European underworld is properly hairy and suspenseful. Here, it’s just coverage. It needs to feel subjective, I think. One nice angle where a train passes over a bridge in the background… Then we just cut to a police car speeding to the rescue, flattening all suspense and taking us out of Beck’s experience. Must remember not to watch any more Bacsó films, unless anyone has any really passionate recommendations.

Bacsó has either greatly toned down the attempted seduction of Beck, or some Russian state TV censor has done it. A little bit of sex wouldn’t have hurt things, though the authors have a clinical, even forensic way of dealing with bodies, and Jacobi seems as unlikely an erotic hero as he does a punch-up artist. Anyhow, Beck declines the offer.

Excitingly, incompetent coppers Kristiansen and Kvant, who appear for the first time in this volume of the series, but only as a mention, get an actual walk-on here. But they’re not cast to resemble the books’ hulking idiots. Still, it’s nice to see the supporting cast — ROSEANNA, while fairly faithful to its source, left out most of Beck’s rather loveable colleagues. Though this scene doesn’t appear in the book, and though I can’t understand Russian, this seems like a very faithful reproduction of the kind of Kristiansen and Kvant scenes we get in The Fire Engine That Disappeared and Murder at the Savoy: called to account for their latest fuck-up, the two idiots lie pathetically, get caught out, throw one another under the bus, fall into humiliating recriminations. I’m prepared to give Bacsó some credit here, and note that he seems to have made more comedies than dramas.

They’ve changed the ending, though — instead of the depressing flatness of Beck’s solution — the crime turns out to be incredibly ordinary, with only the method of concealment lending it a certain panache — Bacsó concocts a crime passionelle and folie a deux, injecting a certain Gallic romance into the denouement. He also chooses this late point to introduce realistic gore, which isn’t inappropriate but is rather late in showing up.

And then the truly awful theme song comes in. “So confused / I donno what I’m gonna do / Ween or lose / I godda gedda new from you…” Good, I guess, to know that Hungary or Sweden has it’s own Shirley Bassey. Though it may be unfair to blame Bacsó for this musical intrusion, just as Neil Jordan doubtless isn’t responsible for the sudden invasion of MONA LISA by Phil Collins (“I really hate rock ‘n’ roll,” Jordan has said), the theme tune ends the film in the most gloriously inapposite way, and makes me glad I stayed the course. And I don’t scorn the fact that one of the minor actors slips comically on his way out of the penultimate scene, that’s the kind of muddy deflating comic realism the film needed more of.