Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Dean Spanley (2008) (SIFF 2009)

Not a shaggy dog story

Watching Dean Spanley at the Singapore International Film Festival, my mind was brought back on several occasions to memories of listening to the BBC Radio 4 quiz/comedy show Just A Minute, where celebrity guests ("contestants", in the Iron Chef-esque parlance of the show) are made to speak extemporaneously on an unseen subject - without hesitation, repetition, or deviation, for just a minute.

The most entertaining results tend to happen when a guest approaches the given subject from an unexpected, unorthodox angle, to tell a hilariously absurd yet coherent story. And it is this strange, wonderful clash of the absurd and coherent that meet in this film adaptation of Lord Dunsany's short novel, Dean Spanley.

It is - on the surface - a tale about reincarnation, but like the performance of a good, mischievous guest on Nicolas Parsons's show, the magic lies in the eccentric and absurd angle the film takes on the subject, and how coherently it all comes together - even as you're grinning at the sheer lunacy of it all, and wondering how the cast managed to deliver all their lines without bursting into fits of laughter to ruin every take.

But while you're regaled by the sight of Sam Neil as a bland if affable clergyman recalling his past life as a devoted spaniel and raving about the bond between master and dog, there is a simple, emotional tale existing by its side, created through the masterclass performances by Peter O'Toole and Jeremy Northam, who play a wintry, emotionally abusive patriarch and his unhappy filial son.

As a movie, neither the comedy or the emotional drama stand well on their own; yet they come together in a wondrous, sublime manner.


Hels said...

I didn't think the story was wondrous or sublime, but I did think there was excellent, moody photography and really splendid acting.

Still the question remains. Why were these rational, educated men sucked in by the promises of spiritualism? Not just as a game, surely.

Anonymous said...

Because the Fisks needed to be at peace. And as for Wrather, well no one knew that dog's name did they?