“Amok” is a well-intentioned but occasionally clumsy adaptation of a Stefan Zweig story about a once-respected German doctor whose misguided pride and obsessive love for a French woman in the Portuguese West Indies leads to ruin. Exotic locations, Andrzej Seweryn’s lead perf and an OK turn by Fanny Ardant make the French-lingo pic suitable for international TV sales and video.
In March 1939, during the sluggish boat journey from Goa to the port of Cochin in Southern India, scruffy, liquor-guzzling Dr.Steiner (Seweryn) confides the tragic tale of his downfall — in flashback — to a traveler (Bernard Le Coq).
Disgraced for embezzling from a German hospital, reformed ladies’ man Steiner had put in years manning a remote clinic in the Portuguese colonies when Ardant’s character appeared out of the blue. Somewhat stilted and literary pic gets much more compelling when stunning Ardant makes her entrance about 20 minutes into the narrative. Ardant’s hubby, a Portuguese diplomat, has been in Europe on business for five months. Alas, Ardant is three months pregnant. She offers Steiner a fortune for a discreet abortion. Dazzled by the sight of a white woman after years among the locals, he makes a crude counteroffer. Their relationship goes downhill from there. Fearing the consequences of a back-alley abortion, hopelessly smitten Steiner tries to redeem himself but ends up going “amok”– a frenzy brought on by palm liquor and tropical heat.
Awkward coda implies that Europe, too, had gone amok in 1939. Thesps lend approximately the right tone to the material but can’t give the story the haunting depth it requires. Nicola Piovani’s hearty score sometimes stands out more than it should. Good period production design plays up locations in India and Portugal.