THE DEEP BLUE SEA
DIRECTED BY TERENCE DAVIES
This is a film that I first heard about from one of my favorite film critics Mark Kermode from across the pond about a year ago. Just seeing the scant clips available online, this film, director Terence Davies’ first scripted film since 2000’s HOUSE OF MIRTH, was going to be a visual feast for the eyes. Watching the film whole, there is good reason for why, even a year after it was released in the UK, critics here in the US are praising it and putting a lot of Oscar buzz into the leading performance of Rachel Weisz.
THE DEEP BLUE SEA is a war-time period film befitting to the old-fashioned film sensibilities of Davies (who most in the US best know for his love-letter documentary to his hometown of Liverpool, OF TIME AND CITY). But the film is not a pastiche or even so nostalgic or a post-modern cynic’s take down of an era horrible to women like Rachel Weisz’s Hester. Nothing is pronounced or immediately obvious but it tells of an era that seemed in between nostalgia and idealism, singing hand-in-hand at pubs and in the Underground but when the war had ended the return of a time where there were gender roles was clear. Hester is in a pre-feminist quandary, stuck in a marriage with her much older husband Sir William Colyer (Simon Russell Beale) but Beale is introduced as an innocuous mama’s boy until he does assert patriarchal control, refusing to divorce her so she can re-marry the Royal Air Force veteran who swept her off her feet, that seems ill-befitting to a quiet, if timid-looking man. But the genius of performances in this film are that they are dialed to such precise emotion in moments.
Weisz never plays Hester as an overly hysterical woman trapped in a textbook case of patriarchal control. She is consumed with anger and sadness that you can feel the depression on the screen but she is not a Sylvia Plath poem, despite the fact the film begins with her reciting a suicide note. Her interactions with Sir William are a master-class in passive aggression and her early courtship with Freddie is raw passion that when Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister circles above them as they make love, to the point you lose track of who’s naked body is which, it shows how Hester could go from a hole in her life to just a rabbit hole with Freddie that, of course, turns out not be what she imagined.
Hiddleston’s Freddie somewhat compares to another WWII veteran named Freddie, an American veteran, of Joaquin Phoenix in THE MASTER. The American Freddie Quell breaks down into deviance after returning home, while Freddie Page the Englishman tries to express as much goodness and positivity but cracks emerge from him. Hiddleston has Freddie speak in a high-volume register that is far more conscious of the film’s time period than Weisz or Beale when you think about how people talked in the movies back then but that register continues in scenes of anger and drunkenness. It heavily compares to Beale’s quiet, well-meaning but lethal malevolence that Hiddleston is a spark of fire that can turn quickly. The tone and sound levels never change with these two men. One a impotent, quiet, imp of a man and the other a loud, physical and emotional force of nature who cannot stand being out of control specifically his relationship to Hester.
Davies unleashes a color scheme and lighting texture that mixes with images of societal entrapment and lyrical urges from period songs (Jo Stafford’s “You Belong to Me” a standout) that is just beautiful to watch. You knew from OF TIME AND CITY that this was an artist who had a mixture of emotions to the past as he narrated the life of a Liverpudian to black and white archived images but seeing that he could do so in all color palates, film form, and storytelling (basing this film off of the Terence Rattigan play) shows a real master of the craft. But what I do not entirely buy with this film is the idea, made by some critics, that he lives through Hester as other gay artists have done through their female characters. Weisz makes Hester a bottled up distressed woman who becomes staid. Davies has too much of a palpable sense of humor to be a Hester.
DIRECTED BY BART LAYTON
How did he get away with it? Why was there never a moment when one of them paused and thought if it was really him? How did it take so long for somebody to point out how he could never have been an American in the first place with that accent? Why does he continue to do it after earning such international notoriety? What did happen to that boy? These are just a few of the many questions I had when seeing THE IMPOSTER for the first time. I’ve revisited it again and again, and not only do those questions pop again, they are followed by an additional set of questions. THE IMPOSTER serves as partially an Unsolved Mysteries/Hard Copy recreation procedural (director Bart Layton with TV DNA in the popular Locked Up: Abroad series) and also a fascinating presentation of people who believed the lie. Layton and his crew leave them for the audience’s judgment (and there is so much to judge) while making one of the most engaging recent documentaries not made by Errol Morris (who Layton owes a lot in style points).
It is the story of con-man and serial fraudster Frederic Bourdin posing as a missing Texas boy Nicholas Barclay years after he disappeared without a trace. He manages to get a passport and passing himself off as Nicholas Barclay to strangers but then the real test belongs to the Barclay family who accept him even through his distance, detachment, a bad hair-dye job, and broken English. Even when speaking knowing that Bourdin used them, they speak of him in a way of empathy, concern, and casualness that you almost feel like they are still talking about Nicholas. Were they in denial? Even when the FBI tells them this could not be Nicolas, there is a bizarre scene recreated of Nicholas’ sister embracing Bourdin at the airport right in front of the FBI agent like it never happened. Is it too easy to just say they wanted to keep Nicholas alive when he reappeared not dead? Or was there a more malicious reason behind accepting a fraud as Nicolas? The latter question is largely in the third act and basically implicates how dead members of the Barclay family could be suspects for Nicholas’ disappearance but far-fetched and the main person behind that theory is none other than Frederic Bourdin. Why should we believe him? Layton interjects his own point of view of who to believe following Nicholas’ sister for the first time breaking down about how he could accuse them of wrongdoing from his prison cell by showing Bourdain dance in his prison cell. It is spine-tingling and mesmerizing and infuriating all at once.
Bourdin is the star of the film. Layton masterfully edits Bourdin’s testimonies about his series of lies in becoming Nicholas Barclay such as using Bourdin’s own voice to recreate the phone calls he made to authorities. This guy was a professional fraudster. Why does he do it? Bourdin bluntly says it was because he was born with a mixed identity as a mixed-race Algerian and he felt more comfortable taking other people’s identity, playing a role, than his own confused cultural identity. That is a little too perfect of an answer. The highly logical parts of Bourdin’s testimony make me want to play armchair psychologist and declare him a psychopath right then and there. You are dealing with a guy who likes playing different roles when it serves him well in his own words, why would he not want to manipulate the audience here? He has always been an actor and Bourdin leaving me with possible illusions and doubt, with Layton all but confirming we were just in the presence of a ‘great actor’, made me want to seek out more of this story and more about Bourdin’s own history.
When you have a case like this, the most sensational parts consume the story itself of the tragic circumstance of Nicolas Barclay as the fraud of that was not Bourdin’s first rodeo. But I will say the film lost me in the sensational parts when it related to Nicholas, with the P.I. and former consultant of Hard Copy, Charlie Parker is ‘intrigued’ by the case and does his own free-lancing work that leads him to go around walking in a nice suit and shovel looking to dig up Nicholas’ body. That was a little too much.
But THE IMPOSTER is, nonetheless, a stirring piece of true crime that will definitely have its viewers engage in more conversations and research about the case and also Frederic Bourdin as an individual who may be a genuine psychopath. It is very visual and flashy with some great recreated scenes set to popular rock music (my favorite was David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch). This was my favorite documentary this year by far.