When you play with clichés, you have to be very careful that they don’t backfire; the little things have a way of maiming almost everything around them.
Daniel Schmid’s “La Paloma” — which was shown last night and to be repeated tonight at the New York Film Festival — is intentionally crammed with cultural chestnuts, and also makes a heavy pass at the plots of “Camille” and “La Traviata.” Kitsch and camp collide in this storm of pity and terror and wonder, which seethes with boundless love, burning glances, and unfathomable revenge. Nestling within this Swiss movie are some humorous intentions gone astray; it’s also what they call dreamlike, although the dreams I’ve been watching lately have been funnier.
A glum nightclub singer—Ingrid Caven, who’s tricked out like a caricature of Dietrich — is ailing with some nameless rot. She permits a wealthy young admirer (Peter Kern) to cosset her, cure her, and finally marry her. It’s repeated that she doesn’t love him, but she cherishes his passion for her. Then she falls for his best friend and wants to decamp with him; her husband selfishly refuses to finance the expedition. Therefore, she dies slowly and even more tidily than Ali McGraw in “Lovy Story.”
Her deathbed wish forces her husband to exhume and dismember her three years later; the corpse chuckles as he moans while converting it into cutlets. By then, since I was into the swing of the movie, I expected poisonous fumes to rise from the coffin and wipe out the suffering spouse—and was rather embarrassed when they didn’t.
Some obligatory decadence trickles through the nightclub scenes—but mercifully, the movie is set in 1952, so there aren’t any Nazis around. The soundtrack endows the actors with theme-tunes; occasionally, they even flower into song, and the incidental music ranges from an opera by Erich Korngold to “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” Just after the couple are married, there’s a soaring duet on a mountaintop. Suddenly, a transparent apparition floats over their heads: the thing grins jovially while its draperies flap in a breeze that doesn’t even ruffle their coiffures.
You can’t really discuss “La Paloma” in terms of acting; the performers stalk rigidly about, exchanging long, brooding stares or significant smirks, and the result is a failed parody of the grand manner. (It was probably meant to be some sort of pantomime.) They also speak their lines very, very slowly — as though one another’s reflexes were impaired.
The ultimate astonishment is the appearance of Bulle Ogier as the husband’s mother. Looking younger than her offspring, she doesn’t seem to be on good terms with her cane. If only Elaine May had directed “La Paloma” — the brisk deadpan delivery that she can draw out of actors might have been marvelous for this material.
1.56GB | 1h 44mn | 696×522 | mkv