In ‘Return to Montauk, German director Volker Schlöndorff’s (Diplomacy) latest film, Scandinavian author Max Zorn visits New York on a book tour and tries to rewrite his past. Instead, he winds up irreparably altering his present and setting his life on a course toward an uncertain future.
Max is aptly described as having the demeanor of a Scandinavian antique dealer. And, indeed, Stellan Skarsgård (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) brings an almost infuriatingly dour sobriety to his portrayal of an author whose latest book focuses on the regrets of a man entering the twilight of his life.
From the opening book launch scene, where Max reads a passage about a woman the main character “lost” and still thinks about, it’s clear that Max is writing about his own life. Then we meet Clara, delightfully played by Susanne Wolf (The Three Musketeers), who is the latest in a string of women Max is “currently not married to,” and we know that she’s not the women he obsesses over.
So, who is the woman Max regrets losing? That’s the burning question in the first 15 minutes of the ‘Return to Montauk.’ Then, we meet Rebecca; a steely New York lawyer played with icy detachment by Nina Hoss (Homeland). When Rebecca claims to want nothing to do with Max, suddenly our questions are answered. But then she gives him a bit of hope, and Max wriggles back into her life.
What follows is Max’s obsessive attempt to replay and rekindle their two-decade old failed relationship. Of course, this must all happen without letting the doting Clara, who we’re led to believe is having an affair of her own, find out about it. Hence the skulking off to Montauk.
And, remember that these are all part of big money, New York literati scene, so for them, angst and obsession are always expressed with long soulful walks on Long Island beaches. And, they are so in touch with their feelings that they simultaneously feel betrayed and blithely toss around the f-word like it’s their latest mocha latte.
That said, the visuals from cinematographer Jérôme Alméras (I’ve Loved You So Long) are perfectly in sync with the story as he delivers compositions that are by turns big city cold, and curl-up-by–the-hearth cozy and warm. And, the New York presented here is a smart, dry, and modernized version of ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ New York. These things all work so much that it almost all comes together.
But, while ’Return to Montauk looks great, and the acting is excellent, the whole package, from Colm Tóibín’s (Brooklyn) and Schlöndorff’s script to Schlöndorff’s and Skarsgård’s decision to play Max as, essentially a love-obsessed teenager with a receding hairline and hip literary pretentions, just feels a bit too self-aware and broodingly avant garde.
‘Return to Montauk’ opens in Irish cinemas on October 6th.
Review by Glenn Kaufmann, a Dublin-based freelance writer, and one of the founders of No-Budget, a show for independent filmmakers. Click on the link to discover more: http://bit.ly/2thKXVW