In early-20th-Century Dublin, a winter’s musical gathering is being held. The first two-thirds of the film takes us through the course of the evening, from the arrival of the guests, to the musical entertainment, to the dinner and its discussions (and arguments), and finally the departures. During the party, one is aware of a certain tension or distance between one couple: Donal McCann (nephew to the hostesses) and his wife (Anjelica Huston). As they prepare to leave, Huston hears one of the guests sing, and is rooted to the spot. Later, McCann asks her why the song affected her so much, and a painful memory from her past comes out.
John Huston’s last film is suitably elegiac. Based on the James Joyce’s short story of the same name, the movie is itself in short story form, barely clocking in at 73 minutes, and that’s including the credits. The running time is just right, though, as this is a compact, moving tale, whose title does not become clear until the closing minutes. Were the film any longer, audiences would likely become restive at the apparent lack of story during the first two acts, but everything is present for good reason, working in unity towards a powerful conclusion. In all of this, the film is deeply faithful to the Joyce story. But the story also presents an enormous challenge: its conclusion relies on the thoughts of its protagonist, not on dialogue or action, the bread and butter of cinema. What to do? Huston takes what is probably the only path open to him, and goes for a voice-over as the camera gazes at mournful scenes of snow falling in the Irish night. The voice-over, having been absent until this very moment, is a bit jarring, even as its necessity is understandable. So the film might not be flawless, but it is a heartbreakingly moving valedictory gesture from one of cinema’s greatest directors.
The colours are warm and positively sumptuous, generously inviting us to partake of the holiday hospitality. The blacks are utterly flawless, and the flesh tones are excellent. Grain and edge enhancement aren’t problems. The image is good, but seems a bit soft in the long shots, perhaps a reflection of the film’s 20+ years of age. On the whole, then, a very nice looking transfer.
Things get off to a nice start with a delicate but enveloping mix of the gentle score. Then, the 2.0 audio at first seems to be handling the arrival of the guests very well, with the surround effects capturing the hustle and bustle of the event. But then one realizes that the surround is, in fact, utterly indiscriminate, with voices and effects emerging from the rear speakers whether they belong there or not, and this remains the case throughout the film. This flaw isn’t enough to ruin the enjoyment of the film, and it is less noticeable in some scenes than others, but it is there. The dialogue also sounds a bit harsh at times.
None, other than a few trailers for other Lionsgate DVDs.
The film is moving in its own right, but that this is Huston’s deliberate last bow makes its emotional punch all the more powerful. The complete lack of extras is a shame, though.