The Intended

By Wood, Robert Paul | CineAction, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

The Intended


Wood, Robert Paul, CineAction


I thought Kristian Levring's The King Is Alive one of the finest, most fascinating films I saw in the 2000 Toronto Film Festival. I appear to be in an invisible minority over this. The press screening was very sparsely attended, I read no reviews of the film anywhere, and it has still, two years later, not had a release in Canada, either theatrically or on video. This is the more surprising in that it has an international 'name' cast, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Romane Bohringer, Janet McTeer and Bruce Davison. Surely, at least, someone will have the enterprise to bring it out on DVD. In view of this apparent blanket rejection I had begun to wonder whether I was completely wrong about it, but The Intended convinces me that I was not. I hope it doesn't suffer a similar fate. (Note: I cannot write about this film with any adequacy without giving away its plot, which is built upon surprises. If it is available in any form when this is published, I ask prospective readers to see the film first).

Taken together, the two films are a gift to auteurism. True, The King Is Alive was an official Dogme film and The Intended isn't, but its staging/shooting methods, if somewhere outside the strictures of the celebrated 'Vow of Chastity', remain reasonably chaste: the entire action takes place within a single location and the film is nowhere afflicted by 'special effects', cheating over spatial relationships, or the kind of razzle-dazzle editing that seeks to prevent one from noticing that the characters couldn't possibly be doing what we are supposed to believe they are doing. In short, an honest film, such as is no longer the norm today.

Thematically, the links are very strong. The King Is Alive was built partly on the premise that it might be helpful for people in extremis to act out King Lear rather than try to deceive themselves or simply blot out their situation. (Perhaps the reason the film has not been distributed is that few people today under thirty seem to know the difference between King Lear, Edward Lear and Evelyn Lear, nor be in the least worried that they don't). The Intended abandons Shakespeare, but not the 'feel' of the Elizabethan/Jacobean tragedy/melodrama: the latter term, which didn't exist then, seems today the more apposite to such works as Othello, The Duchess of Malfi, or The Revenger's Tragedy. I would describe Levring's film as a Jacobean melodrama set about three hundred years later, a genre marked by passion and excess, crime, treachery, violence, characters driven to extremes of behaviour, a consistently high emotional voltage.

The basic premises of the two films are also startlingly similar: a group of people isolated, far from their native culture, in a primitive environment (the desert, the jungle), unable to contact anyone for help, with no apparent hope of rescue, struggling to survive either nature or their own fellow-humans or both, driven to extremities of desperation and action. Ultimately, both films are about the testing of character in extreme circumstances, the relentless exposure of one's ultimate nature. From this viewpoint, one of the things that gives the film its distinction is that it contains such surprises while convincing us of their logic. We come to realize that the surprise comes from our own cinematic conditioning: the character development refuses (for example) to conform to the expected course of guilt/retribution/punishment/ remorse/suicide that would be the typical cinematic consequence of hideously murdering one's own mother. Deprived of this, we have to make an adjustment, yet the film's own logic seems completely convincing.

Janet McTeer co-wrote the screenplay with Levring and has the central (indeed, the title) role, though this only becomes apparent gradually and she never 'hogs': if the film is a 'star vehicle', it is also very much an ensemble movie, with a uniformly perfect cast. …

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