The Libertine (2004)

“The Libertine” (2004)



uneasy, uneven performance

I don’t know what happened here. This was, i am sure, a deep experience, there are things here which really made an impression, scenes i won’t forget and will want to review as single scenes, and some master strokes of narrative layering. Yet it failed to engage me emotionally as it did intellectually. And what it showed my mind was a strong way of creating a visual link to a soul. So how could it be? This is a film about a performer who provides performances. Wilmot is, himself, a performer, he acts a character, one he defined for himself and in fact, the stamp he leaves after his death is more that of a character than of an artist. The film underlines that. The high and the low point of it happens with two performances of him, on two ‘stages’, the theatre and the chamber. Sure he wrote both of them, but the first one is a spoof intentionally bad text and the second is relatively ordinary and works because of Wilmot’s physical presence.

He provides an actress. He deepens her performances, he teaches her, becomes her lover, but ‘it’s the theatre’ someone says. He saw her on stage, not in the street, he falls for the performance, not for life. So, life as a performance, living as a play, dying as a character. This is framed by Depp directly talking at us, at the beginning and end of the picture. Particularly good monologues, he grabs you, he ostensibly performs. Probably no living actor could do those specific scenes better than Johnny Depp.

The scenes where he teaches the actress are also breathtaking and at eventually life-altering. I don’t have a pass into Shakespeare, i still can’t reach him properly, not yet. That probably kills the Hamlet bits for me. I’d appreciate someone more aware to comment on that. But the camera captures all the nuances, it embraces the performances, it’s beautiful to watch.

This is one of the best Depp’s performances. He is great, he places layers of spiritual ambiguity on the character, he let’s us see into him as much as the constant fog (even on inner shots) allows us to see the surroundings. Samantha Morton is coldly effective, a woman out of her time, it works because she has an enigmatic face and knows how to stare with those deadly eyes.

So what didn’t i like? Because this didn’t fulfill me totally and some fundamental piece is missing. What piece? Some scenes don’t work, Downs’ death is confuse, ineffective and hollywoodian (‘i told you’…) and sometimes the screen-writing is not as economical as it should be. But that isn’t enough. This will bother me until i figure it out. Maybe it fully works and that uneasiness it leaves me is part of the mastery of this.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb


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