If it didn't lapse midway into monotony, "Seven Servants" might have made its mark as a camp classic of high-art folly. This twaddle about an oldster drawing on youth and vitality by having an ethnically balanced bunch of hired hands jam their fingers in his ears and nostrils is just an elaborately embroidered account of going out with a bang.

If it didn’t lapse midway into mind-numbing monotony, “Seven Servants” might have made its mark as a camp classic of high-art folly. A thoroughly undignified showcase for a veteran actor of Anthony Quinn’s standing, this philosophical twaddle about an oldster drawing on youth and vitality by having an ethnically balanced bunch of hired hands jam their fingers in his ears and nostrils is basically just an elaborately embroidered account of going out with a bang. Outside of purely perverse fest showings, paying audience members could be outnumbered by the titular servants.

Iranian-born artist-turned-director Daryush Shokof — now based in the U.S. and Germany — has stated that the story came to him in a dream, which he then scripted with his wife, Juliane Schulze, in eight days. He also has announced his wish to make a sequel to “Seven Servants,” following his next project about a vegetarian vampire. Viewers of this film might argue that he must be stopped.

Quinn plays Archie, a rich old man who determines to increase his inner peace by tapping into the positive energy of others. This he does by hiring a quartet of manservants — Caucasian, black, Asian and Middle Eastern — all of whom are requested to scrub up and plug into his facial orifices.

Tended to by Archie’s comely maid, Anya (Sonia Kirchberger), they remain thus connected for 10 days. Long sequences show the human octopus formation eating, sleeping, reading, meditating and dancing in the halls of Archie’s plush villa, in his steaming pool or in the grounds where camels and a llama graze. Rather mystifyingly, tropical fruit frequently levitate and whirl about above their heads.

Preparing to meet his maker, Archie throws a lavish party, inviting his oldest friend, Blade (David Warner), and the woman he has always loved, Hilda (Alexandra Stewart), to participate in his passage into the next life. In a particularly ponderous exchange of soul-searching dialogue, Bladc bows out of the ceremony. But Hilda jumps into the tub and lathers up with Anya before they both join the boys in the bedroom to straddle the dying Archie. An additional wench (Audra McDonald), who sings a death aria, bumps the number of servants to seven.

The arcane proceedings quite often provide some ludicrous amusement — notably Anya getting haughtily offended when one applicant suggests she should try his finger — but the film’s pseudo-mystical thesis on achieving true harmony in order to approach death as a life-embracing experience basically is inflated hokum. Quinn brings humor and some unwarranted conviction to his role, while Warner, Stewart and Kirchberger appear to have as tenuous a grasp of the script’s larger meanings as the audience.

Edited in short scenes that end in fade-outs, the film is littered with moments that feel like the remnants of discarded plot strands. Gato Barbieri’s cocktail tunes push things even further into the realm of kitsch silliness.

Seven Servants

German

Production

A Das Werk production. (International sales: Das Werk, Munich.) Produced by Stefan Jonas, Bahmann Magsoudlou. Executive producers, Ralf Dreschler, Stefan Jonas, Stefan Jung, Christian Leonhardt. Co-producer, Andreas Habermeyer. Directed by Daryush Shokof. Screen-play, Juliane Schulze, Shokof.

Crew

Camera (color), Stefan Jonas; editors, Henry Richardson, Siegi Jonas; music, Gato Barbieri; production design, Johannes Klose; art direction, Shokof; costume design, Wolfgang Weber; sound (Dolby), Friedrich M. Dosch, Hubertus Rath; choreographer, Robert Weiss; assistant director; Frank Martin; casting, Donna Deseta, David Cady. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 16, 1996. (Also in Montreal Festival.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Anthony Quinn, David Warner, Sonia Kirchberger, Alexandra Stewart, Audra McDonald, Ken Ard, Reza Davoudi, Jonathan Staci Kim, John Wojda. (English dialogue)

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