Review: ‘Crystal Book’

John Billeter

John Billeter

(“J.B.”) … Jean-Francois Balmer

Julia Portal …Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi

De Silva … Douglas Ranasinghe

Police chief … Gamini Fonseka

Pierre Greene … John Arnold

With: Swarna Malawarachchi, S. Madan, Jean-Pierre Sentier.

(French, English, Sinhala and Tamil dialogue)

“Crystal Book” shatters almost immediately. Laughable, multilingual attempt at some kind of philosophical discourse on life, death and memory in Sri Lanka contracts a severe bout of exotic-itis early on and never recovers. Second feature of Geneva-based producer/director Patricia Plattner looks set to become a rare item even on fest shelves.

Famed orientalist J.B. (hangdog-looking Jean-Francois Balmer) arrives in Sri Lanka to decipher a book written on glass that contains Buddha’s thoughts on the nature of memory. Still attached to the bottle since his wife’s suicide, J.B. warms to Franco-Italian nurse Julia (smirking Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), who asks his aid in helping a young kid (S. Madan) rejoin his father in an area occupied by Tamil guerrillas. Double hitch is that the boy is a spy for the terrorists, and the region contains the memory-laden house where J.B. once lived with his wife.

Characters mostly hang around stiffly spouting unactable dialogue in their second language against gorgeous tropical locations. Largely fixed-camera direction by Plattner — who co-produced Manoel de Oliveira’s “The Cannibals” and “Valley of Abraham”– suffers from the same lassitude as the script and central character.

Tech credits on the $ 2 million venture are all fine.

Crystal Book

(SWISS-FRENCH-PORTUGUESE)

Production

A Light Night Prod. (Geneva)/Gemini Films (Paris)/Madragoa Filmes (Lisbon) production, in association with Television Suisse Romande. (International sales: Light Night, Geneva.) Produced by Patricia Plattner, Philippe Berthet, Paulo Branco. Executive producers, Plattner, Branco. Directed by Plattner. Screenplay, Plattner, Seth Linder, Didier Haudepin, based on Claude Delarue's novel "L'Hermeneute ou le livre de cristal."

Crew

Camera (color), Matthias Kaelin; editor, Loredana Cristelli; music, Jacques Robellaz; art direction, Jean Bauer. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 10, 1994. Running time: 113 MIN.
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