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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Albert Nobbs

This is the last of this week's films for the time being. I do hope to see Pirates soon but I'm going to wait to see it in 3D. For now though, we'll just put a cap on this week's new releases with a really rather odd little film.   


That Albert Nobbs somewhat unnerved me has little to do with its subject matter of a woman dressing like a man in order to get work in late 19th century England (that's just a reversal of the old Shakespeare plot device anyway, isn't it?) and it certainly has nothing to do with the fact that the woman in question is a lonely lesbian trying to find love. What it comes down to- and ultimately the real reason to watch the otherwise fairly ordinary film - is Albert Nobbs himself/herself, played by Glenn Close in typically excellent form.

Much can be and has been made about the sexual persuasion and identity of the title character, but the reason why Albert Nobbs is so compelling a character is not because of his/her sexuality but because he/she is so damaged because of it. Indeed, had it not been for a well-adjusted cross-dressing, lesbian supporting character and the fact that his/her need to live in secret is the cause for much of what's wrong with him/her, I could easily see gay and lesbian groups taking up against the film's portrayal of its central, homosexual character.


In short: man, woman, whatever, there is something very strange about Albert Nobbs. He/she is a person whose presumably innate shyness, sensitivity and introversion are driven to such extremes by her need to hide who he/she truly is that her entire existence becomes defined by dysfunction and neuroses. The result is a person who seems apprehensive when taking even the smallest of steps, is extremely socially awkward around even her familiars and seems oddly uncomfortable even in the privacy of his/her own room. His/her dreams for love and her own business are clearly, at their heart, about wanting to be a "real person" - someone who exists not only behind the impenetrable fortress of her own body but out in the world as a "fully functioning human being".    

Now, this might seem more psychoanalysis of a fictional character than a film review but, to be honest, the vast majority of what makes the film compelling at all lies squarely in trying to get a fix on so enigmatic a character. Yes, the film has some fine supporting performances and Rodrigo Garcia does an impressive job in recreating this specific time period, but everything else is entirely subservient to the title character to the point that even the slightest digression away from him/her feels entirely redundant and obtrusive.

The result is a film that is far from an easy watch and one whose primary audience are those more interested in analyzing a complex character than relaxing into a story and is a film whose intellectual drive almost entirely smothers any emotional response except for those felt on the most visceral of levels. Or, more simply Albert Nobbs is a film to be admired rather than enjoyed - take that as you wish.


 

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