Intrigo: Death of an Author confuses the viewer both with its plot and with the mere fact of its having been made in the first place. Writer Birgitta Bongenhielm really has some explaining to do on this one, or maybe that should fall to Hakan Nesser, the author of the original novel. (GPG: 1/5)
Review by Contributing Editor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
A well-made film can evoke associations in its audience that make the film feel interconnected with other works of art; David Lynch recalls Hitchcock at times, or Breaking Bad carries references to spaghetti Westerns. However, sometimes a movie doesn’t evoke such associations so much as give you the sense that the director was really, really trying to evoke them. Some associations I got the sense that Birgitta Bongenhielm and director Daniel Alfredson were really, really trying to evoke were: Franz Kafka, Christopher Nolan, Shutter Island, North by Northwest, Stanley Kubrick, Taxi Driver, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
The film was definitely trying to achieve that certain Nordic disconnection that came out in the version of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo directed by David Fincher, the king of dissociation. Every scene feels totally emotionally flat, with the only real affect being the look of slight confusion that comes up on the main character’s face every time something inscrutable happens, which is all the time. The feeling of random people popping up with different names but the same faces, of significant plot points disguised as bits of small talk made just before a character kills themselves, the disorientation of not knowing what characters we can trust as the audience (including the main character)–these are all attempted in Intrigo: Death of An Author.
Before I really get into the failed creative ambitions of Intrigo, though, I first want to talk about that subtitle, Death of An Author. Did the writer of the original novel think he was smart by rewording the title of Roland Barthes’s most famous essay to make it more indefinite? Did he really think that the title would prompt me as a viewer to see this nauseatingly serpentine plotline as a commentary on how one can never really know what’s really true in the main character David’s twisty little spy story because his telling of it is more due to influences beyond his own control than it is to his own authorial intent–and so too with his life in general? Did this repulsively presumptuous writer believe we would then be drawn to generalize that Ben Kingsley’s character, as the author of the whole conspiracy at work in the film, is no more an intentional author of his life than David is, making all the events in the story meaningless and David’s quest to trace meaning back to Ben Kingsley tragically, contemptibly futile? And did he think it was smart to then have David kill Ben Kingsley’s character as a rejection of Kingsley’s assertion that life is meaningless, but in a larger sense as a way to take control of the narrative of his own story in such a way that he really does get to be an “author” in his own life? Did Brigitta Bongenhielm and Daniel Alfredson think I would be taken in by any of that by one single second?!
One could reason that while trying and failing at something is pathetic, it is more pathetic not to try at all. In that sense, Intrigo is not the worst movie possible; this filmmaker seemed to be trying very hard to make this masturbatory narrative more significant than it seemed. Masturbatory is a good word for this film actually, since it connotes the kind of narrative feedback loop that many of Christopher Nolan’s or David Fincher’s most celebrated works seem based on when you get right down to it. In some senses Intrigo is like an ouroboros, a snake that instead of eating its own tail, jacks itself off in an infinite recursive loop.
And of course, since FF2 Media is after all a feminist publication, I couldn’t write a proper review of Intrigo: Death of An Author without also mentioning that the two main women characters in this film are abysmally written. They’re each a dark mirror to the other, since they are both affluent wives who choose to leave their husbands, but whose marriages end with sudden death instead. David’s wife fakes her own death, while Ben Kingsley fakes his death leaving his wife a seeming widow. Each of these women is given the treatment immature men tend to give their female characters; they’re both portrayed as frigid, self-interested shrews who don’t have much depth to their motivations.
The treatment of the women characters then brings me to my utter apathy toward the men characters. The two main male characters spend most of the film drinking together on a Greek island while David tells Ben Kingsley the story of how his wife left him and he (David) came to track Ben Kingsley down. The plot David spins for Ben Kingsley only makes sense if you accept the premise that it’s sensible for a man whose wife has recently left him to cope by going on an international wild goose chase first to track her down, and then secondarily to track down an author he has never met because of a slim connection between his wife and the author’s. I don’t accept this premise, so this film makes no sense to me.
All in all, if you want a movie to make fun of, Intrigo will probably serve you well. Otherwise, hard pass.
Does Intrigo: Death of An Author pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
It does not! As mentioned above, the women characters aren’t given much of a role in the story other than the functions they serve in the men’s storylines.
Top Photo: David searches for his wife.
Middle Photo: A mysterious author listens to David’s story.
Bottom Photo: David considers suicide.
Photo Credit: Enderby Entertainment