×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mesmer

The wild, impressionistic view with which writer Dennis Potter assails the so-called age of reason in "Mesmer" seems barely containable on the bigscreen. And if it were not for the grounded, eccentric title performance of Alan Rickman , one imagines the entire film might defy gravity and spin out of earthly orbit. The film is a non-stop assault of contradictory tones, wicked asides and outrageous style. It's a viewing challenge akin to an obstacle course, and that will surely limit its theatrical prospects -- especially stateside -- though it unquestionably has a strong, rarefied appeal.

With:
Franz Anton Mesmer ... Alan Rickman Maria Theresa Paradies ... Amanda Ooms Frau Mesmer ... Gillian Barge Prof. Stoerk ... Jan Rubes Dr. Ingehousz ... David Hemben Francisca ... Anna Thalbach Franz ... Simon McBurney Herr Paradies ... Martin Schwab Duchess DuBarry ... Shirley Douglas Dr. Deslon ... Peter Dvorsky

The wild, impressionistic view with which writer Dennis Potter assails the so-called age of reason in “Mesmer” seems barely containable on the bigscreen. And if it were not for the grounded, eccentric title performance of Alan Rickman , one imagines the entire film might defy gravity and spin out of earthly orbit. The film is a non-stop assault of contradictory tones, wicked asides and outrageous style. It’s a viewing challenge akin to an obstacle course, and that will surely limit its theatrical prospects — especially stateside — though it unquestionably has a strong, rarefied appeal.

Biography is the least of the concerns in the film, which focuses on a few short years in the life of the 18th-century medical radical who ventured into such areas as hypnosis and harmonics before they had names.

The drama and humor comes from the threat Mesmer poses to the establishment. He truly has the esteemed Viennese doctors working overtime to explain away his success with supposedly hopeless cases, employing methods the “enlightened” folk feel are only a short step away from devil worship.

It’s evident at the same time that the good doctor is no saint. His code about suffering is simple and goes against the grain of his era, which lived (and died) by

the practice of bleeding when all else failed. He intrinsically likes the notion of being the square peg in the round hole. There’s no doubt his vanity can amply withstand the attention — both good and bad.

Aside from the cat-and-mouse game that structures the piece, Potter sullies the notion of reason and passion being wholly separate entities in Mesmer’s questionable doctor-patient relationship with Maria Theresa (Amanda Ooms).

The blind daughter of a wealthy businessman, she is a local celebrity for her almost professional recitals. She’s also prone to seizures, and when Mesmer calms her at a concert by will and the laying on of hands, she insists he pay her further attention.

The healer’s own loveless marriage only enhances the situation. The growing attraction — perhaps influenced by the moon and tides — to Maria Theresa provides the excuse to finally banish Mesmer.

Ironically, his next stop is Paris where, rather than a clientele of beggars and the poor, he becomes a court favorite.

Rickman effects an eerie, otherworldly quality in his role. It’s all a front, though, for the man is from humble origins and totally breaks down in the face of love. He is, excuse the expression, mesmerizing.

Support cast is uniformly strong, with Jan Rubes, normally cast in fatherly roles, chilling as the chief nemesis. Ooms is a striking presence in her first major English-speaking film.

Director Roger Spottiswoode wisely sticks to the themes and ironies of Potter’s script. The approach is more poetic than narrative, held together by the central performance. Tech credits are strong, though the images tend to lean toward the dark side.

A fitting testament to the late writer, “Mesmer’s” tale is rife with contemporary resonances that make the already unsettling material even more haunting. It should hit just the right bell in arthouses and ancillary markets.

Popular on Variety

Mesmer

(Period drama -- Canadian/British/German -- Color)

Production: A Cineplex Odeon (Canada)/Mayfair (foreign) release of a Levergreen/ Accent/Studio Babelsberg production. Produced by Weiland Schulz-Keil, Lance Reynolds, Robert Goodale. Co-producers, Andras Hamori, Susan Cavan. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Screenplay, Dennis Potter.

Crew: Camera (color), Elemer Ragalyi; editor, Susan Shipton; music, Michael Nyman; production design, Jan Schulbach; costume design, Birgit Hutter; sound (Dolby), Karl Laabs; assistant director, Michael Zenon. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (competing), Aug. 28, 1994. Running Time: 107 min.

With: Franz Anton Mesmer ... Alan Rickman Maria Theresa Paradies ... Amanda Ooms Frau Mesmer ... Gillian Barge Prof. Stoerk ... Jan Rubes Dr. Ingehousz ... David Hemben Francisca ... Anna Thalbach Franz ... Simon McBurney Herr Paradies ... Martin Schwab Duchess DuBarry ... Shirley Douglas Dr. Deslon ... Peter Dvorsky

More Film

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

  • US director Francis Ford Coppola holds

    Francis Ford Coppola Honored With Prestigious Lumiere Prize by Thierry Fremaux, Bong Joon Ho

    Francis Ford Coppola took the stage to claim the Lumière Festival’s lifetime achievement honor, the Lumière Prize, in a stirring celebration that marked the festival’s 10th edition on Friday night in Lyon, France. The four-time Academy Award winner accepted the prize after a series of video tributes, musical performances and testimonials from family, friends and [...]

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

  • Robert Zemeckis

    Robert Zemeckis in Talks to Direct Live-Action 'Pinocchio' for Disney (EXCLUSIVE)

    Robert Zemeckis is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio.” Andrew Miano and Chris Weitz will produce through their company Depth of Field with Weitz penning the script. “Paddington” director Paul King had originally been tapped to direct but had to leave the project for unknown reasons at the beginning of the year. David [...]

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content