time you are in New Orleans, consider taking a walking tour of St. Louis
Cemetery No. 1. You can’t miss what is considered the crypt of the illustrious
voodoo priestess (and Roman Catholic of good standing) Marie Laveau, because it
is surrounded by offerings left by those seeking her intervention (often in
matters of the heart). None can doubt the name Laveau still has potency in the
Crescent City. In the early 1900s, Laveau’s cautious granddaughter has
difficulty filling the shoes of her legendary namesake, but an enigmatic new
arrival will convince the voodoo practitioner to take a more activist role in
Kevin Good’s Dinner with the Alchemist (trailer here), which world
premiered at the 2016 Dances with Films.
Jacques St. Germaine has just arrived from Paris, but he should feel
linguistically and culturally comfortable in New Orleans. He immediately seeks
out Marie Laveau, out of respect and for professional reasons. His beloved cat
died during the voyage, but he is certain she can fix it. He also believes
Laveau’s powers can halt the Yellow Fever ravaging the outer wards. Although
Laveau is reluctant to open Pandora’s Box, but she relents in the case of the
cat out of gratitude for some timely assistance.
good news is the epidemic might not be as bad as the city assumed. The bad news
is its death toll has apparently been inflated by a serial killer planting his
victims among the deceased diseased bodies. Prostitutes are his preferred
target, which is rather bad timing for Mary, an earnest Catholic orphan who has
just accepted employment in Madame Catherine’s brothel. She hoped to perform
conventional servant girl chores, but obviously that is not what the Madam had
in mind. However, Mary can possibly forestall the worst of her new duties by
investigating the murders (presumably committed by one of their clients). St.
Germaine is not one of them, but he has taken a personal interest in Mary, for
you dig New Orleans, there is probably just enough of it to carry Alchemist. The premise is terrific, but
at times it is hamstrung by its budget constraints. For instance, the supposed interior
shots of Saint Louis Cathedral were obviously shot in a different, smaller location.
The subplot involving Mary and her sailor suitor are also rather awkward (to
put it diplomatically).
the other hand, Dan Istrate is terrific as St. Germaine, especially when
confronting Dionne Audain’s Marie Laveau. They have real presence, dignified
but also somewhat uncanny, as befitting such powerful Crescent City denizens.
Unfortunately, many of the supporting players provide rather questionable
Still, Jenna St. John’s screenplay is quite
clever, incorporating a great deal of colorful NOLA lore and even some
legitimate history. She and Good clearly understand the original Laveau’s
continuing importance to New Orleanians. Despite its limitations, Dinner with the Alchemist is an
entertaining period urban fantasy and an affectionate love letter to New
Orleans. It deserves to find an audience among fans of the city’s macabre
legends and lies, following its world premiere at this year’s Dances with
Films, in Hollywood, USA.
Labels: DWF '16, Marie Laveau, New Orleans, Voodoo