J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Côté’s Boris Without Béatrice

Boris Malinsky is Russian-born, but he is now sufficiently Canadian to give the Anglo Prime Minister the stink eye for his iffy French. Malinsky is a hard man and a difficult man, but he might change his ways for the sake of his spiritually ailing wife in Denis Côté’s Boris Without Béatrice (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York at the Anthology Film Archives.

If you think Malinsky’s chrome dome looks imperious, wait till you see how he acts when a sales clerk asks for his email address. He is a successful factory owner, but his manner and bearing are supposed to bring to mind Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe. Malinsky finds himself in a rather awkward position now that his cabinet minister wife Béatrice has slipped into a state of catatonic depression. He has taken a leave of absence to care for her, but he has mostly concentrated on his interests, including an extramarital affair with Helga, an employee. However, he is about to get a wake-up call.

The mystery man billed as “l'Inconnu” or “the Unknown” and later called “Mr. Lewis” will call Malinsky to a late-night meeting in the local quarry to deliver or stern warning. His pride and self-centered behavior have caused Béatrice’s malady, so he must repent and reform now or risk losing her forever. Malinsky is not inclined to be bullied, but l’Inconnu is highly convincingly, like a cross between the Ghost of Christmas Present and Quilty from Kubrick’s Lolita or Monsieur Oscar from Holy Motors, which would make sense, since he is played Denis Lavant.

Lavant manages to be both impish and demonic, especially while regaling the Malinsky family with the myth of Tantalus, which seems an unduly harsh analogue to impose on Malinsky. Whether or not he redeems himself, James Hyndman’s super performance as Malinsky certainly redeems the film. While he can be caustically droll in a way the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey would appreciate, he is also quite poignant when portraying Malinsky’s attempts to reconcile with his entitled left-wing activist daughter and his emotionally distant mother.

Côté is not interested in spoon-feeding his audience, but the film is weirdly compelling, if viewers can handle a little ambiguity here and some of the surreal there. Admirers of Lavant will not be disappointed, but it is Hyndman who really makes the audience sit up and take notice. Recommended for fans of Côté, Carax, and Gondry, Boris Without Béatrice opens tomorrow (9/8) in New York, at the Anthology Film Archives.

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