Rare footage of Orson Welles visiting bullfights and holding forth in general rep good reasons for dipping into “The Well,” helmer Kristian Petri’s retracing of Welles’ footsteps in Spain. Less a conventional docu than an essay with clips, structurally similar to but not as transcendent as Chris Marker’s “The Last Bolshevik,” Petri’s pic has Wellesian intellectual breadth about it even if his voiced-over musings occasionally sound ponderous. Skedded for a theatrical bow in Sweden, “The Well” could have slight legs in Spain too, but will mainly draw water from fests and cable airings.
Jocularly likening himself to the reporter Thompson in “Citizen Kane” setting out to find the meaning of “rosebud,” Petri hits the road in Hispaniola, a journey that takes him to dives and grand hotels, and encounters with filmmakers (Jess Franco), de facto widows (Welles’ late-life love Oja Kodar) and bartenders.
Of all the many countries Welles visited during his wilderness years, Spain was his favorite, Petri argues persuasively. A fan of bullfighting who hung out with the stars of the sport, Welles had his ashes interred in a well owned by cowslayer Antonio Ordonez (hence the pic’s title).
Welles also shot hours of footage of bullfights in the 1950s and ’60s. Much of it was collected by archivist Patxi Irigoyen in an effort to reconstruct Welles lost version of “Don Quixote,” and generous slices of this footage and material for Welles’ unproduced “The Sacred Monsters” are sutured into “The Well.” We get to see Welles at bullrings rhapsodizing about the sport, bombing around Spain in the back of a luxury car with a tiny Super 8 camera in his hand, and reciting Shylock’s key speech from “The Merchant of Venice” for an extempore camera test, among other things.
Meanwhile, Petri contemplates the nature of Welles’ self-destructive genius and admirably tries to explode some of the myths about the man even as he cites them. Clearly, Petri has done his homework and hit the phone hard to rope in so many disparate people for the camera who touched Welles’ life. Petri even goes so far as to find Welles’ favorite place to eat zurrapa de lomo (a dish of pure pig fat, served for breakfast in Spain) to talk to the guy who used to cook it for him.
Story gets a bit fatty itself in the middle but puts more meat on the bones in its last half-hour.
Digital projection caught was of a not-yet-finished cut, but the quality of the 35mm lensing by Jan Roed still looked good and elegantly composed. Editing by Petri deftly manages the potential morass of information.