Big Shot: More
There is a certain kind of movie (often 1960s independent cinema) full of beautiful faces, hip clothes, sweet soundtracks, and breathtaking vistas that shrug off any commitment to plot in favor of evoking a mood. When this works, it is so satisfying. 3 Women, L’Avventura, Picnic at Hanging Rock – thousand mile stares and flowy dresses invoke a longing to be part of that world while the nebulous dread that penetrates speaks to larger ideas forming just beyond the frame. But these films are so easily botched, and when they fail, they fail big. In these pages I’ve already complained about Zabriskie Point’s tedium and the insufferable histrionics of Sex and Lucia. Both failed (in part) because they were unable to fully abandon (melo)drama to propel forward, muddying their quest for dreamy ambiance.
More’s failure stems from a different place. It begins with familiar appeal – Mimsy Farmer’s big doe eyes evoke more alert Edie Sedgwick and Klaus Grünberg’s handsome German posture as Stefan, sulking around in hippie garb or taking in epic vistas in the nude. But as soon as Grünberg opens his mouth, record scratch, the magic is over. The man can’t act. He’s so stiff and unnatural it seems like a joke about acting but isn’t. Early in the film Stefan hangs around at a sort of boring hippie house party in Paris when Mimsy Farmer as Estelle walks in. An otherwise superfluous voiceover track informs us that the blank stare on both of their faces means it’s love at first sight. And despite the actors’ absolute lack of chemistry, their passion is the driving force behind all of the events that follow.
Although known primarily for its Ibiza location, Stefan doesn’t arrive on the island right away. The film dallies in Paris for too long waiting for him to raise the cash to follow Estelle to paradise. And when he does arrive, more time is wasted setting up storylines only to be abandoned when we finally get to the naked sunbathing. For a film about a couple of lovers in a downward spiral of drug abuse on a secluded island, quite a few other characters populate the film. And good thing, because although they seem out of place, they serve as a welcome distraction to Stefan and Estelle’s wooden ‘I love yous’ and insufferable histrionics. The actors playing the mysterious Dr. Wolf and the American weirdo, on the other hand, are a pleasure to watch as they ham it up imbuing their scenes with a sinister edge. In Dr. Wolf’s first shows up knife throwing with his expat buddies. They throw knives at a bullseye, drink, and tease each other casually; it may be the only not rigid moment in the film because the people onscreen actually seem at ease in front of the camera.
Director Barbet Schroeder was clearly aiming to capture the mood of a specific moment in time. The Pink Floyd soundtrack, Estelle’s laissez faire attitude toward punctuality, dress code, self respect, and drug use, and the small expatriate community always in the background point to Schroeder’s interest in capturing the disillusionment of 1969. Stefan is first introduced as an innocent leaving behind a boring life in Germany to find some adventure. We see him change as he smokes his first joint, takes his first trip, and does his first hit of heroin. But the experiences are all communicated from an outside view. It’s the opposite of Enter the Void. The audience doesn’t get to enjoy his trip with him, we just get to watch him have it, which as it turns out, is mind-numbingly boring. Both he and Estelle just sit there. The wild beach parties of Ibiza, as seen through the distanced perspective of an audience member, are reduced to boring people sitting around sort of talking but not really making much sense. Even when Stefan suddenly perks up, it’s only to hit Estelle in the face, to which she barely reacts. I prefer the catatonic to domestic abuse.
Intellectually, to disconnect the audience like this is wise. Schroeder is showing drug use without glamour. But in doing so, he alienates us from the central love story. And by the time the plot veers off into the strange and contrived realm of drug trafficking and ex-Nazis, we can’t muster the attention needed to piece together what is happening. So when the final tragedy occurs in this cautionary tale, there is no sadness. The audience has stopped caring.
More lured me in with a promise of hazy, sun soaked nudity and gauzy dresses, Instead it delivered a disjointed story two boring people who didn’t really seem to care about each other ruining lives that never mattered. When I began, I was optimistic that I would find an aesthetically pleasing picture of disaffected youth and restless counterculture. By the film’s end, this was transformed into apathy. It’s not the first time I’ve been hoodwinked like this. Chances are, if a film’s primary appeal is superficial, there won’t be much substance to back it up. No doubt, I will continue to be fooled.