The Immortal Story Screen 11 articles

The Immortal Story

1968

The Immortal Story Poster
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    Sight & Sound: Michael Atkinson
    September 02, 2016 | October 2016 Issue (p. 101)

    Through this tale, Welles clearly saw his own hobbled career (orchestrating fictions we're not supposed to 'believe') as a kind of existential condition. But more than that, the textures of the film's diegesis suggest a baser layer of deception: Welles's makeup and dubbing, Moreau's casting (she hardly gets to be very Moreau-esque), Eshley's lumpy blandness, the transparently Spanish villages – all of it is as fake and as gestural as a card trick.

  • It's beautifully made, but the titular story turns out to be kinda bland, especially given how much time is spent building it up. Hard to believe sailors have been repeating that tawdry tale for decades, which means that the film's power resides entirely in the performative meta-narrative, plus a quartet of strong performances. Roger Coggio, as the bookkeeper, provides a master class in servile strength, and I kept wanting him to go full Bogarde/Pinter.

  • Welles was only in his early 50s when he made The Immortal Story for French television, but it appears as an almost too perfect summary of his career; a metaphorical tale of impotence, memory, power and mortality made on a tiny budget in Europe it both chases its own tail and is a deeply felt film of melancholy mood and sensibility. The film has the quality of a miniature; short in length and minimalist in design.

  • Becalmed and forlorn, Orson Welles' version of Isak Dinesen's novella, adapted as a short (62 minutes) for French TV, is habitually received by admirers as his Gertrud, his Seven Women, an old master's self-summarization and testimonial. Indeed, the picture courts finality, the serenity of Chimes at Midnight toeing close to thinly veiled nihilism as Welles holds court in an underpopulated Macao in the 1860s, ultimately nullified by the fiction he has willed into fact.

  • With Welles working now for the first time in color, THE IMMORTAL STORY, made for French television in 1966 and released theatrically in 1968, reveals him to be fascinated suddenly more than ever before with the material basis of cinema, with the fakery of its mechanisms and how that very falsity is responsible for its capacity for beauty.

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    Film Comment: Steven Mears
    July 03, 2016 | July/August 2016 Issue (p. 75)

    Willy Kurant's deep-focus photography looks exultant in Criterion's new 4K digital transfer. As in F for Fake, Welles ruminates hypnotically on the need for tall tales, and the legacies of those who live by their telling.

  • At times, The Immortal Story is so surpassingly, heartbreakingly beautiful that it's difficult to parse even the top layer of the narrative. In this 58-minute film, Welles achieves a resonant, diaphanous delicacy that's rare even for him.

  • It is a drowsy, hypnotic miniature about a man whose lack of imagination is his undoing.

  • It isn’t really a stretch to say that in The Immortal Story, Welles identifies with all the major characters—Clay, Elishama, Paul, and Virginie (the last two of whom constitute a clear literary allusion to Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s celebrated 1788 novel Paul et Virginie, one of the key romances read by Flaubert’s Emma Bovary). Indeed, the fact that both he and Dinesen identify with all four, in equal measure, is central to the primal power of their storytelling.

  • The film wields a strange effect, like a tale told underwater, submerged and echoic, as if being remembered and experienced all at once. Welles manages this feeling of dialogue between hazily remembered past and equally hazy present without need for the elaborate mechanisms of flashback and framework he had utilised on Citizen Kane, instead conveying his disorientating mood through the gently insistent music and the concise yet elusive flow of his images.

  • The drama’s ballad-like simplicity hides iridescent layers of passion and metaphorical resonance—and hints at an outrageous ambition on Welles’s part to make an essentially pornographic film for French television at a time of stringent censorship. . . . [In the bedroom scene, Welles] uncorks his most flamboyant strain of cinematic inspiration, hinting—sensuously and in fragments, with a powerful sense of graphic design—at what can’t be shown plainly.

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