Friday 10 February 2012

Film Review: A Closed Book (Ruiz, 2010)

I still haven’t got around to seeing the late Raul Ruiz’s The Mysteries of Lisbon (2011), the final film by the Chilean auteur which made several critics’ Best Of 2011 lists. But I did just have the pleasure of seeing Ruiz’s penultimate work, A Closed Book, a poorly received but, I thought, nifty and entertaining adaptation of Gilbert Adair’s novel. It’s a small-scale piece - a chamber thriller, really - that unfolds in the grand country estate (Knebworth!) of Sir Paul (Tom Conti), a blind writer  who seeks to hire an amanuensis to help him complete his memoirs. Passing up on a variety of male applicants (introduced in an amusing credit sequence), the candidate he chooses is the softly-spoken Jane (Daryl Hannah). But as the pair set to work on the manuscript, it’s an uneasy rapport that’s established, and Jane’s behaviour becomes increasingly strange.

Doffing its cap to the blind-person-in-peril sub-genre, A Closed Book teeters on the TV movie-ish brink at times. But Ruiz’s cool, wry style - which provides some arresting moments of disorientation - and a witty, nicely inflected performance from Conti give the proceedings class. Moreover, Paul’s blindness isn’t just there to accentuate the scares: this is a movie that’s deeply concerned with perception, and especially the perception of art-works. (A key scene involves a jigsaw puzzle of Holbein’s The Ambassadors.) And there are some enjoyably unsettling moments as we witness Jane giving Paul information that contradicts what we’re seeing in the frame.

A Botoxed or otherwise surgery-ed Hannah has become one of those actresses who - rather distractingly - doesn’t quite look like herself anymore. But she gives a decent performance that shifts intriguingly from sweet concern to possible malevolence. Miriam Margolyes (non-Botoxed, I think it’s safe to assume) brings bustling normality to her scenes as Paul’s Scottish housekeeper. And there’s a hilarious cameo for Elaine Paige (!) as a canvassing Conservative candidate (!!) who shows up at the house.

A Closed Book unravels somewhat in its final stretch, when it gets to its - over-explicitly delivered - revelations. (Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Adair’s having-his-cake-and-eating-it conclusion manages to implicate critics as dastardly beings on the one hand and to completely vindicate them on the other.) The pay-off doesn’t match the build-up, and may leave you feeling a little deflated. But since the build-up is most of the movie, there’s a good deal to enjoy here.

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