Thursday, May 1, 2008

Wetherby (1985)

(Directed by David Hare, UK, 1985)

A young man crashes a dinner party given by a middle-aged schoolteacher for her friends. Being British, they are too polite and all believe he came with or knows someone, hence his presence. The next day, the man shows up again and explains that his attending the previous night's dinner was a hypocritical lie, since he didn't know anyone and they all pretended that they did. He suddenly places a gun in his mouth and commits suicide while the teacher watches in shock.

This is the start of David Hare's film Wetherby, focusing on the aftermath and investigation of the suicide of the young man, John Morgan (Tim McInnerney) and simultaneously an investigation of the life of the schoolteacher, Jean Travers (Vanessa Redgrave).

The main reason to see this film is Vanessa Redgrave's excellent, heartfelt performance as a woman who has, in response to a tragedy earlier in her life, has nullified her feelings to the point where she just simply exists. She proudly declares, at one point in the film that she believes she is alone, not lonely and treasures that fact. The point is that she and the friends around her, the Pilboroughs (played by Dame Judi Dench and Ian Holm) are empty and hurting as well. To get by, there are the dinner parties, the pub drinks that Jean shares with Stanley Pilborough where they play elaborate games of one-upmanship and the endless activities that Marcia, Stanley's wife arranges. Into this arrangement of
her semi-lived life comes Karen, a friend of the man who committed suicide. Karen disturbs Jean with her listless approach to living and disaffection and just hangs on. The investigation becomes complicated with a local constable (Tom Wilkinson) asking too many questions. In flashbacks, Jean reveals that she has had a love affair with a long dead man, who died as a result of a stupid chance of events.

Hare's film owes a lot of its structure to Alain Resnais' Muriel, although not having seen that unavailable film, it is hard to comment on the similarities. Hare's film is quite moving and ambitious, being hard to pin down the central mystery on why a young man kills himself over societal rules, but I almost want to believe that the core of the film is that his act forces the schoolteacher to reexamine her life and somehow move on. As one character says in the film, 'Life is messy'.

This is Redgrave's film, her performance lights it up extremely. With this and Karel Reisz's film of Isadora Duncan, this is her best. See it for her.