Monday, October 08, 2018

The Immortal Story

Based on a short story by Karen Blixen (under the Isak Dinesen pseudonym), The Immortal Story is about a wealthy merchant in the 19th Century who is obsessed with the story of a sailor who was paid by a rich man to impregnate the man’s wife wanting to make the legend come true. Written for the screen, directed, and co-starring Orson Welles, the film is a study of obsession and a man’s need for a fantasy to come true. Also starring Jeanne Moreau, Roger Coggio, Norman Eshley, and Fernando Rey. The Immortal Story is a ravishing and haunting film from Orson Welles.

Set towards the end of the 19th Century of Macao, the film revolves a wealthy merchant who tells a story to his accountant about a rich man pays a sailor to impregnate his wife as it’s become a legendary story among traveling sailors. Wanting to make the legend come true to fulfill his wishes, he sends the accountant to find a sailor and a woman to make it come true yet there’s some complications along the way. Orson Welles’ screenplay has a straightforward narrative that play into the obsession of the merchant Mr. Clay (Orson Welles) and his need to have this legend become reality just before he is to die. His accountant Elishama Levinsky (Roger Coggio) is tasked to find both the sailor and a woman to play these roles as he would find the latter in Miss Virginie (Jeanne Moreau) whose father was a partner of Clay until Clay cheated him out of his fortune. Miss Virginie is reluctant to take part yet she decides to do it out of revenge towards Clay while Clay would find a young sailor in Paul (Norman Eshley) who also agreed to do it for money.

Welles’ direction is stylish in some of the compositions and settings he creates in the film as it was largely shot in the small Spanish town of Chinchon with many of the interiors scenes shot at Welles’ home outside of Madrid. While there aren’t a lot of wide shots in the film in favor of medium shots and close-ups, Welles does maintain this larger-than-life presence in Mr. Clay as a man who is aware that he’s going to die and wants a final wish. There is an intimacy into what Welles want as well as aiming for something simple in the setting while not delving too much into stylistic shots. Even in some of the camera movements that happen late in the film when Miss Virginie and Paul meet sort of aware of what is going on and what they have to do. Even if they know what is at stake despite the emotional baggage both carry in their assignment. Overall, Welles crafts a somber yet riveting film about a man trying to make a legend come to life in his final days.

Cinematographer Willy Kurant does brilliant work with the film’s colorful cinematography as it adds a lush yet grimy look to many of the exterior scenes as well as the interior scenes to play into the mood that Clay is dealing with. Editors Yolande Maurette, Marcelle Pluet, Francoise Garnault, and Claude Farny do excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in terms of capturing the drama and mysterious elements of the film. Set decorator Andre Piltant does fantastic work with the look of the interiors inside Clay’s home as well as the homes of Miss Virginie and Levinsky. The dresses by Pierre Cardin are gorgeous for what Miss Virginie wears to play into her lifestyle but also to tap into what she lost from her childhood. The sound work of Jean Neny is terrific for its low-key approach to sound that include some natural moments that play into the locations as well as a few moments during its third act. The film’s music mainly consists of piano pieces by Erik Satie that is performed by musicians as it adds to the film’s melancholic and dramatic tone as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s incredible ensemble cast that includes an un-credited cameo appearance from Fernando Rey as a narrator/merchant who is seen briefly early in the film also includes a terrific performance from Norman Eshley as the sailor Paul as a poor man who hadn’t spoken to anyone in a year as he is given a chance to do a job for money with hopes of having a ship of his own. Roger Coggio is excellent as Elishama Levinsky as Clay’s accountant who is tasked with finding the people for this legend to come to life as he deals with the job he’s given as well as the well-being of Miss Virginie and Paul. Jeanne Moreau is radiant as Miss Virginie as a woman, whose father was Clay’s partner until he was cheated out of his fortune by Clay, who reluctantly takes part in Clay’s plan in an act of revenge while coping with everything she’s lost. Finally, there’s Orson Welles in a brilliant performance as Mr. Clay as a merchant who is aware that he’s facing death as he wants a legend to come to life where Welles maintains that larger-than-life persona as well a melancholy into someone who had everything but feels unfulfilled.

The Immortal Story is a sensational film from Orson Welles that features a mesmerizing performance from Jeanne Moreau. Along with the rest of its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a hypnotic music score, and a simple yet entrancing premise. It’s a film that maintains an air of simplicity into a man’s desire to make a legend come to life as well as a story of loss and regret. In the end, The Immortal Story is a rapturous film from Orson Welles.

Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - F for Fake - Filming OthelloThe Other Side of the Wind

Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - The Eyes of Orson Welles - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2

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