Monday, 5 December 2011

“I don’t know the beginning”

Albert Nobbs: directed by Rodrigo Garcia; written by Istvan Szabo, Gabriella Prekop, John Banville and Glenn Close

The thing about Albert Nobbs is that I’m constantly unsure as to what it’s trying t0 convey. Only last week in my Carnage review I mentioned that sometimes a film has to be worth more than its mere content and by that notion were I to judge Albert Nobbs not by what it gives us, but by how it is presented we are given a sumptuously mounted tale of a character we don’t know or even truly understand. I make reference to Carnage not only because it was the last film I saw before this but because both contain an intriguing similarity even though the results are starkly different.
Carnage was an ensemble piece interested in assessing a quartet of characters reacting to extreme circumstances, Albert Nobbs is the story of a woman working as a butler in a small hotel all under the guise of a male alter ego the eponymous Albert Nobbs. There’s a strident feeling, then, that the film will give us some insight into this doubtlessly interesting character for Albert Nobbs sets itself up as something of a character study. From its title, one cannot help but imagine it as little else. And, as the first act gets underway the screenplay teases us with a potential look at the person beneath the stoic figure of Albert Nobbs. The way in which the narrative is crafted demands both that we understand the inclinations which move Albert to this life and a find a larger overall importance of the tale necessity be told in the first place. There is immediately, though, a certain mire created as the film seems at once more at home with its supporting players than it is with its protagonist.

If you have observed Glenn Close in interviews you’d notice how self-effacing an actor she is and in that vein it does not surprise me that with her credited as writer and producer Albert emerges as such an overwhelmingly reticent character, one who does not immediately – if ever – emerge as one eclectic enough to demand our attention. It makes me think, then, of our sensibilities as film enthusiasts. Close circumvents the usual formula and delivers s a character overflowing with reticence and it makes me think that, perhaps, the major point is that Albert’s only interesting facet is that he is in fact a she and I must admire the film for treating it as such a nonissue, even though it is a specious decision. For the inherent flaw in Albert Nobbs is that it approaches its protagonist as if it were a hallowed figure constantly tiptoeing around the darker proclivities robbing it of levity and power.
Buoyed on by a woman in a similar situation Albert finally tells us what precipitated her movement from woman to man and it’s a confession which falls incredibly limp. For much of the film’s first act Garcia balances the machinations of his protagonists with the larger social issues at hand. It all borders on occasionally quixotic as we see the fun and good poor and the mean-spirited rich and we think that, perhaps, the society is so patriarchal that Albert is forced to be a man. But, the screenplay never tells us and as Garcia’s direction becomes more and more claustrophobic we can’t be sure why Albert’s out is becoming man. Surely, she is not the only woman of the times who experienced hardships, why was her decision to become a man? Was it an earlier inclination? When he decides to take a wife is it because of society’s strictures or is there any actual romantic affiliation for Helen.
At the midst of the film we take a turn from Albert to focus on the young lovers and Mia Wasikowska is unusually resplendent even if it’s a subplot which seems to belong in a completely different film. Is it a character study or is Garcia trying to make a commentary on the times? It seems that, perhaps, it is the latter as we watch the hardships the lower-class endure, but the final act fails to assert itself despite the beautiful sets, glorious costumes and fine acting (really, there is not a single false performance, even Johnson manages to salvage a sometimes unnecessarily garishly written Joe). Glenn never falters under the guise of Albert, and it is not her fault that the character we are presented with is the ghost of a woman (man?). An actor cannot be condemned for playing a character too truly to the script, but we’re never given the story’s true beginning and unable to get any decisive understanding of our protagonist so that when the film ends we feel a little bit too listless even if though we're moved by the characters plights, it's never really enough.


Alex in Movieland said...

C+ is around what I'd say. A 7/10 for me. Disappointing in so many ways, but I kinda liked the ending...

I'm predicting 0 nominations. :(

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

alex not even song? i'd hate to see glenn lose again. i'm through with hoping the best win, i just want her to get the oscar and movie on.

Alex in Movieland said...

Her winning at this point seems impossible to me.

The most she can hope for right now would be a nomination... but as I said, I don't think it will happen. SAG really needs to support her on that. If not, she's gone.

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