Akerman’s last fiction feature is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Malaysia-set first novel in an assured slow cinema style that is evocative of the tropical landscape (shot in Cambodia) where a white man is facing an existential crisis dealing with his estranged mixed-race daughter.
Dir. Chantal Akerman
2011 | Belgium/France | Drama | 127 mins | 1.85:1 | French, English & Central Khmer
PG13 (passed clean) for brief coarse language
Cast: Stanislas Merhar, Aurora Marion, Marc Barbe, Zac Andianas, Sakhna Oum
Plot: In the late fifties in Malaysia, the country finds itself under English domination after many trials and tribulations. In a little lost village on a wide and turbulent river, a European man clings to his pipe dreams out of love for his daughter.
Awards: Official Selection (Venice & Toronto)
International Sales: Doc & Film Intl
Subject Matter: Moderate – Ethnicity & Identity; Existential Crisis
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: General Arthouse
This was Chantal Akerman’s last fiction feature, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s first novel that is set in Malaysia as Almayer (Stanislas Merhar in a brooding, angst-ridden performance), a white man who dreams of treasure and fortune is left to ponder about his pitiful existence as a poor soul who fathered a mixed-race daughter.
With his dreams shattered, he has only his estranged daughter, Nina (Aurora Marion in a quietly effective performance), to live for.
Nina is dark-skinned, and despite her father’s forced attempts to align her to the ‘white’ way of life, she is resolute in wanting to chart a new path for herself, free from the bondage of race and ethnicity, and free from a life of continuing misery.
“You know what it’s like to look for something and never finding it?”
Shot in Cambodia, Almayer’s Folly is a very tactile work—one could almost vicariously experience the tropical landscape in all of its sweltering heat and torrential monsoons.
Apart from several scenes set in a more urban space, much of Akerman’s film centers on boats, rivers, the jungle, attap houses, etc. It’s a very Southeast Asian film—in fact, without Akerman’s name, one would have assumed it had been made by a filmmaker from the region.
Furthermore, it was made in the mode of slow cinema, the principal domain of some of the most lauded Asian filmmakers such as Lav Diaz, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tsai Ming-liang.
Like Lars von Trier in the same year with Melancholia (2011), Akerman makes artistic use of Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’, though in a more restrained way here with its recurring opening refrain. I think Almayer’s Folly will further grow on me when I revisit it hopefully some years later.