Out of puff
PUFFBALL Directed by Nicolas Roeg. Starring Kelly Reilly, Miranda Richardson, Rita Tushingham, Donald Sutherland, William Houston, Oscar Pearce, Tina Kellegher 18 cert, The Screen, Dublin, 120 min Donald Clarke interviews Nicolas Roeg in today’s main pap
WHAT IS the worst film ever made by a director of genius? Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack certainly takes some beating (or, rather, it doesn’t). The wretchedness of Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg defies belief. Where to begin with the later travesties of Wim Wenders?
Well, you can see where this is going. It gives me no pleasure to relate that Nicolas Roeg’s Puffball, an adaptation of a wry novel by Fay Weldon, stinks like last week’s fish. If you found it lying on your carpet, you’d put it in the back of somebody else’s car and drive it to a remote incineration facility. Then you’d buy a new carpet.
Written by Dan Weldon, Fay’s son, the film finds Kelly Reilly’s unlikely architect migrating to a remote corner of Ireland with her American boyfriend. In between her efforts to rebuild a metaphor in the shape of a decaying cottage, she manages to have some messy sex by the cow shed and conceive a child. This does not go down well with a neighbouring family of deranged women and, after stirring a few cauldrons and donning some pointed hats, they set about planning her downfall.
What follows is ugly, confusing and tedious. Rita Tushingham and Miranda Richardson, as mad mother and nutty daughter respectively, deliver performances of such rug-chewing broadness they deserve to be seen in Cinemascope.
In Weldon’s book, the coven’s attempts to supernaturally interfere with the interloper had something to do with the author’s view that pregnancy inspires an automatic jealousy in women. Sadly, such ponderings are, here, totally overwhelmed by the avalanche of bad accents and incoherent plotting. The film also takes a most unfortunate attitude to its location. The story has been relocated from the English West Country, but, rather than introducing some local mythology, the film insists on dealing in Nordic runes and symbols. More distressingly, Roeg chooses to represent the people of the Border counties as gap-toothed, deranged hicks with no more intelligence than the average cowpat.
One is, of course, aware that many of Roeg’s best films received eviscerating reviews on release. But, whereas small minds viewed Performance, Bad Timing and even Don’t Look Now as the work of a disturbed mind, no sane critic described any of those films as boring. Fans of Roeg’s classics would be advised to give this immensely tedious fiasco the widest of berths.
Nicolas Roeg and Donald Sutherland discuss a scene from Puffball