A cold and classy con­coc­tion

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

Di­rected by Volker Sch­lön­dorff. Star­ring Stel­lan Skars­gård, Nina Hoss, Su­sanne Wolff, Niels Are­strup, Isi Laborde, Bron­agh Gal­lagher, Mathias San­ders, Mal­colm Adams. 15A cert, lim­ited re­lease, 106 min The lat­est film from the great Volker Sch­lön­dorff – direc­tor of The Tin Drum and The Lost Hon­our of Katha­rina Blum – looks very much as a nov­el­ist had a hand in the script.

It con­cerns an older writer, in­ex­pli­ca­bly loved by younger women, and his at­tempts to face up to re­grets and mis­takes while pro­mot­ing a new book. If he were even more hor­rid and even keener on young women, you’d won­der if Philip Roth was lurk­ing in the shad­ows.

In fact Sch­lön­dorff wrote the screen­play with our own Colm Tóibín. It ex­hibits that nov­el­ist’s fas­tid­i­ous pre­ci­sion and his in­ter­est in the roads not taken. Sadly it has none of the warmth of his best work. You could chill Cham­pagne on the film’s chilly back­side.

Stel­lan Skars­gård plays the moody, sullen Max Zorn, a nov­el­ist un­likely, on this ev­i­dence, to find him­self dis­cussed in Oprah’s book club. (“Zorn” means anger in Ger­man, but the char­ac­ter is more of­ten de­pressed than fu­ri­ous.) Max has come to New York to flog that new tome. The film-mak­ers have some quiet fun push­ing him round the sort of aw­ful launches and lit­er­ary gath­er­ings that al­most cause one to pity suc­cess­ful writ­ers. The pro­tag­o­nist has clearly em­braced the morals in­vented and ex­ploited by artists of his gen­er­a­tion. His wife lives in New York, but he lives in Ber­lin. While in Man­hat­tan, he yearns for his old love Re­becca (Nina Hoss). Even­tu­ally Max turns up at Re­becca’s law firm and, af­ter some ne­go­ti­a­tion, they jour­ney to Long Is­land for a low-key show­down.

Re­turn to Montauk loses some of its en­ergy when they, well, re­turn to Montauk. The cou­ple walk beaches with a pur­pose rarely seen since Tay­lor and Bur­ton in The Sand­piper, but the chat­ter is short of hooks and at­trac­tions. Even­tu­ally, how­ever, the drama buck­les in a way that makes sense of all that has gone be­fore.

The film, shot in damp blues and ruth­lessly acted by the two leads, re­mains a cold con­coc­tion that de­mands a lit­tle too much in­dul­gence for its char­ac­ters. But it spits out class. And that’s no small thing.

Nina Hoss in Re­turn to Montauk

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