The Immortal Story (1968 France)

The-Immortal-Story-images-5b006a21-2bf1-4c4e-92c2-a3801ed656aBecause Orson Welles directed this, of course it is going to be obscure and pretentious and his ego insisted the man himself star in it too. This is an arty piece about a bankrupt merchant (Orson Welles) who for some unknown reason wants to turn a myth into reality by hiring two people to play out the theme of a story the townspeople have turned into a myth.

The setting is 19th century Macao, a Portuguese colony, and the slow-moving tale is narrated by Welles as Mr. Clay, a bitter old man with a faithful servant/assistant. Welles, by this time in his career, had deteriorated physically to the point where some of his dialog is hard to understand since he barely moves his mouth when he speaks. He pays his assistant to locate a woman and a sailor who can reenact the tale inside his own palatial house. Jeanne Moreau is the ‘young’ woman who agrees to play her part in “the comedy” after being assured that she will be paid handsomely for her contribution to making the old man’s story come to life.

Moreau talks and talks to the assistant about her background in this very literary tale where there is so little movement to propel the story forward. It does not lend itself to the visual medium of film/television very well. Mr. Clay himself chooses the sailor, a tattered looking blond (Norman Eshley) whom he invites to his home with the promise of five guineas. And he talks and talks and talks. “It’s hard on you being so old and dry,” the sailor tells Welles. And indeed, Welles does look old and dry beyond his seventy years. But Mr. Clay is intent on making a tale that has been invented really happen.

CLkg8QJWgAA3Fr-Handsomely photographed in subdued colour, it’s a very enigmatic tale that really doesn’t make much sense when it’s all over. Chalk it up to another pretentious bore from Welles, who based his screenplay on a novel by Isak Dinesen (author of “Out of Africa”). Summing up: A misfire and enigma that Welles originally planned as part of an anthology of stories. It gets a little silly… at one point, the lovers tell each other they are seventeen, but clearly they are both older than that. Eshley only by a fraction, but Moreau was forty, and looked it. On the plus side this is quite Borgesian in its treatment of life and fiction.

Mirrors become important metaphors right away: the looking glasses brought from France, the mirrors as witnesses to the long- vanished happiness of the Ducrot family, Clay having a mirror in his dining room, him sitting face to face with his portrait; and then, the film becomes a kind of mirror, which then takes a life of its own when he devices the brilliant fiction in his own life. Quite soon the film and its life become a game of cards, a grand trick of the cosmos. The scene where they bathe in the light is pure magic. Special mention should also go to Satie’s piano pieces, which are powerful in their own right.



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