×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘Return to Montauk’

Volker Schlöndorff has made a drama, starring Stellan Skarsgård and Nina Hoss, about a rekindled love affair. It may just be a classy soap opera, but it's his best film in a long time.

With:
Stellan Skarsgård, Nina Hoss, Susanne Wolff, Niels Arestrup, Isi Laborde, Bronagh Gallagher, Mathias Sanders, Malcolm Adams.
Release Date:
Feb 15, 2017

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5247776/

“Return to Montauk” is Volker Schlöndorff’s tasteful, high-minded Euro-literate version of a Lifetime Movie — and I mean that (mostly) as a compliment. It’s the story of a famous novelist, Max Zorn, played by Stellan Skarsgård (and based on Schlöndorff’s friend Max Frisch, the celebrated Swiss novelist who died in 1991). Max arrives in New York from his home in Berlin for a week-long stay to plug his latest masterpiece, but once there, all he can think about is reuniting with Rebecca (Nina Hoss), who lit his flame 17 years ago. It’s a tricky situation, since Max is married. His wife, Clara (Susanne Wolff), lives in New York, half a world away from him, and if that sounds like an unconventional arrangement, it speaks to the essence of Max’s nature. He’s in his early 60s, worldly and authoritative, not just a novelist but a Continental philosopher of fiction, yet beneath the cultivated trappings he’s still reveling in a life of adolescent “freedom.” “Return to Montauk” is about how he tries to have his no-strings cake and eat it too.

Schlöndorff, at 77, is still best known for “The Tin Drum,” his most acclaimed film (it took the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1979 and won the Academy Award for foreign language film). Over the years, he has made a number of high-profile English-language dramas, like “Swann in Love” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” none of which worked out too well (though I do retain a fondness for his ripely femme fatale-stocked 1998 film noir “Palmetto”). In “Return to Montauk,” however, Schlondorff seems a bit of a born-again filmmaker; he works with a surprisingly direct and youthful spirit. He sends his camera jostling through the New York streets and into drunken literary cocktail parties and after-hours clubs, and he establishes a spontaneous communion with his actors. The movie is all about what they reveal, especially Skarsgård, who invests Max with a personal history that never feels less than lived in.

The film opens with Max speaking directly into the camera, describing a piece of wisdom his father imparted to him on his deathbed: that the only two things that matter are the biggest mistake you ever made, and the biggest regret you have for what you didn’t do. The film’s whimsical intellectual charm is right there in that tidbit: If you ponder it for a few moments, you realize that the point is ludicrous (as if the things that aren’t regrets don’t matter), yet it spices the drama with a pleasingly weighted European fatalistic urgency. Making the rounds of highbrow talk radio and bookstore readings, Skarsgård’s Max is the literary star as saddened libertine. His wife, who’s much younger, is devoted to him, but he can’t allow himself to be happy with her, because he thinks that’s too easy. To feel alive, he needs to go back and touch his big regret.

He had lost track of Rebecca, but fate hands him a second chance when he runs into Walter (the wily Niels Arestrup), his wealthy old mentor-benefactor, who knew her as well. Rebecca, it turns out, is now a high-powered corporate lawyer, and Max stalks her to her office, where she meets him in the lobby and seems cold and nervous and unfriendly. But then, after another encounter, she asks him to spend Saturday afternoon driving out with her to Montauk, at the tip of Long Island, where she’s considering buying a friend’s beach house. It was Montauk where the two enjoyed the most idyllic moment of their love affair, and the day trip sets the movie up as a romantic drama of intimate suspense that will confront the question: What happened back then?

For a while, you think the question is going to be: Will they or won’t they (sleep together, that is)? Schlöndorff milks that rather shamelessly, but actually, the sex, when it happens, turns out to be nice and no big deal. The German actress Nina Hoss lets her beauty mingle with remorse, which only makes her more captivating. For a good long while, “Return to Montauk” seems to belong to Skarsgård, whether he’s brooding in that heavy/light Scandinavian way or pretending to be above it all. In the end, though, the film refuses to indulge Max as single-mindedly as he indulges himself. It shifts over to Rebecca, to why she’s so suspicious of re-triggering these feelings. And Hoss’ performance hits a note of painful purity.

None of which takes “Return to Montauk” out of the realm of Lifetime Cinema. The movie really is a soap opera — it’s just a good one, the kind of strolling-on-the-beach, twilight-of-love drama that could connect with audiences of a certain age for what the Volker Schlöndorff of old might have said were the wrong reasons. It’s refreshing, in its way, to see that he’s younger than that now.

Berlin Film Review: 'Return to Montauk'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 15, 2017. Running time: 106 MIN.

Production: A Gaumont, Ziegler Film, Pyramide Prod., Volksfilm, Savage Prod. production, in association with Barefoot Films, Senator Film, Starhaus Filmprouktion, Film & Music Entertainment, WDR, BR, ARTE France Cinéma, ARTE, WDR/ARTE. Producers: Regina Ziegler, Volker Schlöndorff, Francis Boespflug, Stéphane Parthenay, Conor Barry, Hartmut Köhler. Executive producer: Hartmut Köhler.

Crew: Director: Volker Schlöndorff. Screenplay: Schlöndorff, Colm Toíbin. Camera (color, widescreen): Jérôme Alméras. Editor: Hervé Schneid.

With: Stellan Skarsgård, Nina Hoss, Susanne Wolff, Niels Arestrup, Isi Laborde, Bronagh Gallagher, Mathias Sanders, Malcolm Adams.

More Film

  • 'The Dirt' Review: A Mötley Crüe

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

  • Zac Efron Amanda Seyfried

    Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried Join Animated Scooby-Doo Film as Fred and Daphne

    Zac Efron has signed on to voice Fred Jones while Amanda Seyfried will voice Daphne Blake in Warner Bros.’ animated Scooby-Doo feature film “Scoob.” It was revealed earlier this month that Will Forte had been set to voice Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, while Gina Rodriguez would be voicing Velma Dinkley. The mystery-solving teens and their talking [...]

  • 'Staff Only' Review: Cultures And Values

    Film Review: 'Staff Only'

    Marta (Elena Andrada) is 17, from Barcelona and alternately bored and mortified to be on a Christmas vacation to Senegal with her estranged dad, Manel (Sergi López), and annoying little brother, Bruno (Ian Samsó). For her, the freedoms of imminent adulthood, such as the occasional poolside mojito, are tantalizing close but still technically forbidden, rather [...]

  • Rocketman

    Candid 'Rocketman' Dares to Show Elton John as 'Vulnerable,' 'Damaged,' 'Ugly'

    Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck's Addiction Drama Set for Awards-Season Release

    Warner Bros. has given Ben Affleck’s untitled addiction drama an awards-season-friendly release date of Oct. 18. The film, which has been known previously as “The Has-Been” and “Torrance,” is directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Affleck as a former basketball player struggling with addiction, which has led to him losing his wife. As part of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content