Malcolm McDowell was scheduled to appear in person at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, but pulled out at the eleventh hour with little explanation. Watching Bereave, the film he stars in that is premiering at the Festival, it becomes clear why: here is a misconceived, turgid, corpulent movie, tonally confused and actively unpleasant to watch. Review by Katrina Conaglen.
Bereave was directed and written by brothers George and Evangelos Giovanis, in part paid for by crowdfunding.
We take up with an affluent couple, Garvey (McDowell) and Evelyn (Jane Seymour, wasting a sterling performance on an undeserving film) on the morning of their 40th wedding anniversary. He’s hostile and rude towards his beauteous wife, she seems at the end of her tether.
There’s intimations that until recently Garvey was a lovely guy, but no evidence of this or his reputed charm on display. Garvey’s transformation into an abusive old coot is explained by an illness that remains undisclosed to his wife and largely unexamined.
From this start there’s no discernible plot, but rather a muddling collection of scenes of Garvey and his family – his self-obsessed daughter (Vinessa Shaw), his vapid son (Mike Doyle), and eccentric brother (Keith Carradine). In another film these disparate threads would be thematically linked or at the very least make an attempt at intrigue, but here instead each individual plot-thread reveals itself as equally redundant and inert.
That an intrusive, sinister score sits under most scenes, attempting to ratchet up tension, merely serves to reinforce that nothing is transpiring on screen.
So what does fill the celluloid? In the main, various pairings of the different characters meet up and argue shrilly with one another, their dialogue an abortive mixture of painful exposition (“You know I’m just an unemployed violinist”) and achingly self-conscious attempts at cleverness (“[This cupcake store] smells like young love.”) Despite leaden flails at humour none of the cast can make the jokes land, lost as they are among the unpleasant static of the rest of the film.
At the midpoint, the introduction of two street thieves signals a clanging change in the film’s tone, as it attempts to coalesce the various plot threads into something approaching a coherent thriller. This singularly fails, as much up to the lack of sufficient script engineering to handle such a shift as the fact that you simply can’t stand any of these characters by this point.
In Seymour’s case in particular you feel sorrowful she’s so gamely debasing herself for the role (fed up by her husband’s cruelty, she goes the full Havisham – dressing in her wedding gown, downing pills and half sobbing, half orgasming on their marital bed). A more admirable film would have justified such silliness, but here it just feels embarrassing to watch.
An air of smugness pervades proceedings, as well – lingering pauses are left after McDowell lets loose every egregious epigram, as if he was speaking the word of God itself.
It leads you to hold the film in contempt for wasting you time while being so self-satisfied. Aggressively misjudged filmmaking.