A failed composer (John) abducts an opera singer (Casar) and, having hidden her in his mountain retreat, hires a piano tuner (Saracho) to prepare the automata in his grounds for a grand performance, whose purpose the stranger soon realises bodes ill.
A decade after their acclaimed Institute Benjamenta, identical twins Stephen and Timothy Quay return with this self-conscious fantasy that boasts Terry Gilliam as its executive producer. Rarely has a film looked so striking, with shards of colour and bright white light piercing a gloom of visuals that owe debts to German Expressionism and such distinctive surrealists as Czech animator Jan Svankmajer and René Magritte.
There are literary allusions, too, with Argentinian writer Adolfo Bioy Casares’ novella The Invention Of Morel being tempered with dashes of Shakespeare, H.G. Wells and Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom Of The Opera. Even the soundtrack mixes Vivaldi with excerpts from Trevor Duncan’s music for Chris Marker’s sci-fi curio La Jetée (itself an influence on Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys).
But none of this self-regarding artfulness can disguise the pretentiousness of the approach, the pomposity of the dialogue and the rigidity of Gottfried John and César Saracho as the madman and hopeless hero. The occasional impenetrability of the imagery corresponds to the wilful intellectual obliqueness that reduces this to a preening game for highbrow poseurs.
Ingenious use of colour and light, but dramatic inertia makes this an infuriating experience.
Reviewed by Patrick Peters