Wednesday 9 June 2010

Capitaine Achab (2007)

Capitaine Achab is a total snooze during the childhood scenes, but totally picks up when the titular character grows up, loses his leg and is played by the short, demon-like Denis Lavant.

We want to call this film "weird" because... well, because we can't think of any other description for it. It was completely bewildering, and, even worse, not intentionally so. Part of this is our fault: we are so ignorant we had no idea Moby Dick even takes place in America, so when the French characters started saying "Nawn-too-kett" and "Zjhonneee LarhSON", we went, "Waiwaiwait, they're in the US?!" Laugh at us, if you must. But some of the blame also lies with the filmmakers, who give us such a slippery, elusive story (much like an albino sperm whale!) that we had a lot of trouble figuring out its tone. With the random shots of genitalia interspersed with meditative voiceovers over the nature of wandering eggs (uh, chicken eggs) mixed up with stock footage of whale harpooning, periscope-style camerawork and Tim Buckley covers... man, what is going on here!?

The story is told in five distinct chapters. At the beginning of each chapter, we learn the narrator's name - Ahab's grizzled dad (Jean-François Stévenin), his pious aunt (Mona Heftre), Mulligan the stoic priest (Carlo Brandt), Anna the lover (Dominique Blanc), and finally Starbuck the First Mate (Jacques Bonnaffé). Each chapter is, we suppose, meant to illustrate a particular characteristic of Ahab's - how he picked up his legendary single-mindedness, obsessive determination, you know, the whale thing. But none of it is really interesting until we get to the adult Ahab, with his craggy, angry visage and whale bone stump for a leg, and then the payoff for that long, boring backstory is pretty awesome. If the story had followed just the adult Ahab, we would have been well chuffed. But then, we guess that would have just been the book.

Hot hearts, mortar chests and whale bone legs.

Because Denis Lavant is a rollicking good Ahab, compelling and unstable where the child Ahab - Virgil Leclaire - was just blandly cute. You can't really get behind the child Ahab, even if the narrator (Mulligan, in this scene) is calling him a "four-foot ten-year-old little badass" (okay, we paraphrase, it was more like "le petite badass"). But you can definitely get behind Lavant's Ahab, with his squirrelly, sinister energy. Beware, that man is a badass.

So: a very lopsided movie, with random moments of awesomeness spiking out of a sea of weird. Featuring also a large white whale and NO ONE says, "Thar she blows!" (Alas.)

And now, if you've never read Moby Dick but kinda want to now that you saw such a compelling performance of Ahab, in other words, if you feel like us today, join us in admiring this excellent passage about Ahab from the book (freely lifted from Wiki):
All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.
Goosebumps, people!

The trailer, since we can't find the DVD.

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