J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Strange Lands: Morel’s Invention

Morel’s Mediterranean party palace looks like Xanadu as refurbished by Le Corbusier. The music and fashions are vintage 1920s, whereas the technology he has developed is considerably more to near side of “near-future” than when Adolfo Bioy Casares’ 1940 novel was first published. Nevertheless, its big revelation still comes as a surprise. Yet, the real drama derives from the fugitive protagonist’s tortured response in Emidio Greco’s Morel’s Invention (trailer here), which screens during the Film Society of Lincoln Center new series, Strange Lands: International Sci-Fi.

He is a castaway who does not wish to be found. Washing up on a deserted island, he finds a dusty, closed-up villa, but as soon as he reconnects the power and water, Morel arrives with his guests for a week of low impact revelry. The interloper tries to avoid them, but he becomes fascinated with the beautiful Faustine. His infatuation grows deeper when he witnesses her rebuffing Morel. However, when he rashly approaches her, she refuses to acknowledge him.

Of course, something extraordinary is afoot or Invention would not be programmed during Strange Lands. However, be advised some of the FSLC descriptive copy gives away too much of the game. Frankly, you might kick yourself for not guessing it, but editor Mario Chiari seamlessly cuts the film together, effectively hiding the secret in plain sight.

For those previously unfamiliar with the Argentine novel[la], Greco’s Italian film, or a subsequent English short film based on the same source material, Morel’s Invention is the biggest find of the series. The first act set-up requires a little patience, but the pay-off is shockingly moving. Even though it is very much set in the terrestrial world, it completely takes viewers out of their current mindset.

Godard’s onetime muse Anna Karina is absolutely perfect as the beautiful but distant Faustine. The role of Morel, the inventor with profound tunnel vision, also fits British Giallo veteran John Steiner like a glove. Nevertheless, it is Giulio Brogi who really lowers the emotional boom as the tragic castaway.

Invention’s coastal beaches and art deco interiors are absolutely stunning, rivaling the Village from The Prisoner series as desirable speculative fiction setting for a vacation getaway. In fact, that helps explain certain decisions that are made. Masterfully orchestrated by Greco, it is an under-heralded masterwork of international cinema. Highly recommended, Morel’s Invention screens this coming Wednesday (8/27) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of Strange Lands.

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