From the stylish opening credits and a monologue superbly delivered straight into the camera by Stellan Skarsgård, the first 10 minutes of Volker Schlöndorff’s latest film hoodwinks you into thinking that greatness awaits. Don’t be fooled: as quickly as it grips you, Return to Montauk’s short-lived initial promise vanishes without a trace, devolving into a shallow, ham-fisted story about an author’s romantic midlife crisis during a book tour in the US. The screenplay, based on Swiss writer Max Frisch’s memoir Montauk, comes courtesy of the usually wonderful Colm Tóibín; this baffling misfire is replete with banalities masquerading as emotionally profound musings, and comes with a side helping of intellectual posturing, with Kafka, Twain and Nabokov all namechecked for pretention’s sake alone.
It’s a deeply mediocre effort from both Tóibín and Schlöndorff, whose previous film – 2014’s big screen adaptation of the play Diplomacy – fared far better than this ponderous schmaltz. Nina Hoss, Susanne Wolff and a commanding cameo from Niels Arestrup can’t save it; not even a stilted narrative U-turn prevented it from standing out as one of this year’s most tiresome duds within the Berlinale Competition selection. In case you were wondering, it left the festival empty handed.
Someone should tell Schlöndorff to stick to stage plays or further Günter Grass adaptations, as you’d have a hard time believing that the man behind the camera is the same that gave us the Palme d’Or and Oscar-winning The Tin Drum. How the mighty have fallen…
Return to Montauk | Directed by Volker Schlöndorff (Germany, France, Ireland 2017), with Nina Hoss and Stellan Skarsgård. Starts May 11
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