There was, apparently, a great deal of buzz for what was the up-and-coming project of Raul Ruiz in 2011. Then, sadly enough, he passed away. His wife, a certain Valeria Sarmiento, chilean film-maker and Ruiz's collaborator took over the project and happily finished it; a bit more than two hours of epic deeds, blood, corpses, the madness of war; with a quasi-stellar cast: John Malkovich as General Wellington - he could be a Buffon-, Marisa Paredes and numerous others who mainly do more or less cameo roles, but they are oh-so-glamorous: Melville Poupaud, Mathieu Amalric, Michel Piccoli, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Chiara Mastroianni and we're not yet finished: there are also the young and beautiful Elsa Zylberstein and Jemima West.
We're talking about a French-portuguese co-production and there are plenty of well-known Portuguese actors in lead characters -I only decide not to mention them by name, because probably they don't make any sense to most of us. The film was also cut in a TV-series version and was sold -as far as I know- in Canada (!); it was also released in Portugal, under the title As Lignas des Torres Vedras (2012).
I do get the far-fetched visions of creating something big; artists do tend to exaggerate and I wouldn't blame them for that (after all, they often succeed); what I quite don't get is to pitch a project as the new War and Peace of sorts, then lure big names, spend a lot of money on extras, costumes, horses, firearms and god knows what else -remember: they are filming wartime deeds back in Napoleon's times here- and then blow it. It doesn't get more disappointing than that, does it? Lines of Wellington (2012) is a film I would personally dare to call "laughable" among friends, but there's a nice guy who -just like any decent critic who cares for diplomacy- even says that Sarmiento "delivers the tale with a gusto that would have made Ruiz proud." Well, I kind of doubt it; I think that it would be a reason for great dissatisfaction, if Ruiz ever could give us his opinion that is, because Sarmiento delivers this kind of primary school-level tableaux vivant: no character development, loose scenario, theatrical acting; it works as an unpleasant, generic vignette of wartime, but no more.
Lines of Wellington was even competing for the Golden Lion last year and was officially selected by major players in the festival circuit (Toronto, London). Which reminds me once more of the diplomacy of the (film) festival world, too: when big names are bound to walk on their red carpet, they are ready to propose to their audiences no matter what uneven and dubious film. But this is certainly none of my concern here.
What, on the other hand, became a pressing question during and after watching the film, was the way actors -and why not the rest of the talent involved- choose their projects. Building a career on your instinct is far too risky; reading a script doesn't give enough insight on the final product. Knowing the director by name, is still not reassuring enough -colossal names like Manoel de Oliveira or Brian de Palma did mediocre stuff. Having worked with the director, the co-stars, the director of photography and the editor before and having won already a major film prize while working with them, this is the only way one can rest assured that he's doing the right thing. And, guess what, it can still go wrong. Seventh art is such an elusive thing; no-one can ever be sure of the outcome, no matter the effort, the money, the vision or the cast. How is it for the actors to feel like they're playing chess their whole lives? How is it to be ready to win or lose in the next move? How can one stand being adored on day and probably be ridiculed the next one? Could one start renouncing part of his work as minor? Yes, we all know of directors who have done it. Are people in the show-biz not taking themselves too seriously? Did they find the secret to lightness through the belief that life is but a joke? A dream? Or something along these lines? I would love to know what's going on in their heads. Because, if that would be me playing in this film, I would definitely feel awkward, to say the least.
Other than that, I watched this film in a screening of the Quinzaine du cinema portugais in Luxembourg, which is a noticeable initiative indeed.