Dir: Valeria Sarmiento | Chile | Drama | 113′
Valeria Sarmiento follows her Locarno curio La Telenovela Errante (2017) with a classically-styled lavishly-mounted 18th century drama that follows the petripatetic exploits of an (unknowingly) aristocratic Italian nursemaid Laura (Lou de Laâge) after her employer dies in mysterious circumstances leaving her in sole charge of an infant son Sebastian.
Based on a literary work by Chilean novelist Camile Castelo Branco, and adapted for the screen by Carlos Saboga, this sedate and ambitious affair establishes an air of intrigue and uncertainty with an sinister orchestral score as Laura is hotly pursued by the saturnine Marquis Lusault (Niels Schneider), who quickly ravages her before rakishly marrying someone of better birth – or so it initially appears – until Laura’s real heritage is revealed by Stanislas Merhar’s priest with an ill-fitting wig. The drama then takes off across Europe visiting a series of sumptuously decorated stately palaces with little to distinguish whether they’re in France, Italy and England. No expense is spared in the costume department although everyone shares the same sepia-tinted lipstick (including the men).
Gracefully performed by its accomplished ensemble cast, The Black Book is an elegantly rendered potboiler that pays homage to Sarmiento’s late husband Raúl Ruiz, sharing the same sombre pacing as his masterpiece Mysteries of Lisbon (2010) while also referencing Sarmiento’s 2012 Lines of Wellington (prepared by Ruiz) although not its breadth of subject matter. A solid and engaging drama. MT
SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 21 – 29 SEPTEMBER 2018