Prolific French-based Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz has spent five decades making everything from impenetrable avant-garde films to classy art-house movies (notably his 1999 Proust adaptation Time Regained).
Notwithstanding this eclectic career, it still comes as a surprise to find Ruiz at the helm of A Closed Book, an iffy chamber thriller that pits a hammy Tom Conti against a cheesy Daryl Hannah in a not-terribly-exciting battle of wits.
Conti plays Sir Paul, a wealthy, waspish writer and art critic (in the novel he is a Booker-winning author; on screen he comes over as a cross between Kenneth ‘Civilisation’ Clark and David Starkey). Blinded in an accident five years earlier, he is looking for an assistant to help him write his memoirs. Clever and cultured, Daryl Hannah’s Jane Ryder appears to fit the bill perfectly, but as the project advances it becomes clear that she has a hidden agenda…
Based on a novel by Gilbert Adair, A Closed Book is a cheap looking, very stagey two-hander. Now and then Ruiz throws in a bizarre cameo: Miriam Margolyes appears as Sir Paul’s homely Glaswegian housekeeper (“In the tragedy that is my life, she has cast herself as comic relief”, he quips in an example of the script’s laboured humour), Elaine Paige pops up as a hapless Tory canvasser and Simon MacCorkindale has a blink-or-you’ll-miss-him moment as Sir Paul’s publisher.
Most of the time, however, the viewer is trapped inside Sir Paul’s stately home (the movie was filmed at Knebworth) as author and amanuensis engage in a slowly unfolding psychological duel.
There’s the odd unnerving shiver when Hannah’s Ryder begins playing perverse mind games on her blind boss – telling lies about her appearance and the outside world (Newsflash: Madonna was murdered; shot down outside the Groucho Club). And the conceit of a blind man who is afraid of the dark is a clever touch. Some viewers might get a frisson from seeing Hannah going (briefly) starkers, while others may obtain a thrill at the sight of the usually cuddly Conti playing a sleazy creep. Overall, though, this is a very odd misfire.
Released in the cinema on 19 February and on DVD on 22nd February.