Fans of Jorge Luis Borges will wonder how closely the blind poet Rene of “Deep in the Foreign Land” was modeled on the great Argentine writer. Certainly literature is never far from mind in pic’s rarefied atmosphere, where all sentiments are delicate and where the characters sound like books. This becomes a little tedious as the film wears on, and despite some exotic visuals and a fine perf from principal Claude Rich, writer-director Fabio Carpi seems to be addressing a very small arthouse audience. Fests will find pic definitely worth a look.
Although Borges appears to have inspired the film and its talk of mirrors and labyrinths, the blind, aged man of letters who travels around the world from conference to conference is quite a different fellow, an egotistical, conservative Italo-French intellectual. At the height of his fame, elderly Rene (Rich) still lives in the shadow of his tyrannical mother. Much against her wishes, he leaves on his annual conference tour accompanied by his beautiful young assistant, Sibilla (Valeria Cavalli), whom she hates. It is typical that pic glosses over how intimate Rene and Sibilla’s relationship is.
In Spain, Sibilla falls seriously in love with a brave young bullfighter, Manuel Fernandez (Gregoire Colin). A modest veil is thrown over this relationship, too, so it is impossible to know whether they are lovers and what Rene’s (paternal/homosexual) feelings are for the handsome youth. The ambiguous triangle reaches its culmination when Manuel Fernandez serves as best man at Rene and Sibilla’s Spanish wedding.
Carpi’s script, which won Italy’s David di Donatello prize this year, is unusual in its finely written, literary dialogue. Rich pulls it off surprisingly well, speaking only in beautifully crafted sentences full of irony and paradox. His contact with the world is minimal, except through Sibilla, who patiently describes the people and things he cannot see. Though he approaches death with maddening self-centeredness, Rene remains a fascinating character to the end. In contrast, Cavalli’s devoted Sibilla is too good to be true, and Colin’s bullfighter a creature of pure fantasy.
Pic’s title comes from Freud’s description of the unconscious as an “internal foreign land.” This is most appropriate, since Rene’s interior journey toward death corresponds with a globe-hopping lecture tour through the classiest hotels of Rome, Madrid, Seville, Zurich, Munich and Paris. Other exotic scenes take place in Udaipur, India, where he rediscovers the pleasures of the senses, naturally off-camera.
Fabio Cianchetti’s cinematography and Carmelo Agate’s art direction exploit the beautiful visuals of the locations while they underline the quiet refinement of Rene’s surroundings. Several B&W flashes of memory are ably edited in, to modern effect, by Bruno Sarandrea.