Monday, 5 September 2011

Review: Follow Me

Follow Me (1972)

London accountant Charles is certain that his American wife Belinda is having an affair and hires a detective to follow her.  Unfortunately, and unknown to Charles, the lantern-jawed investigator he hires has an accident and is replaced by an eccentric Greek named Julian Cristoforou, whose methods of surveillance are peculiar to say the least.

Based on a stage play and originally intended as a vehicle for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, director Carol Reed took the script and moulded it into lean little gem of a film that is quite obscure today, but that only makes discovering it as pleasurable as making a find in an antiques shop.

I'm not a fan of romances.  In fact, my wife always warns me when one is coming on the telly so I have a chance to leave the room.  I think it's partly that I generally dislike the genre because I regard as sentimental, manipulative and  tending to attract incredibly lazy writers and directors.  The laziness is the worst of the sins.  Hence my wife having no desire to hear my teeth grind and watch my hand reaching for the imaginary blue pencil while she enjoys (God knows why) the proceedings.

Follow Me is the exception to this. The writing is witty and the cast beautifully matched.  Reed's direction is light and seemingly effortless. And the London location shooting makes a perfect backdrop that opens up the original stage setting without overwhelming it or feeling tacked on.  I suppose it's this theatricality that draws me.  It produces more structure and requires more discipline, which serves the story much better than the flaccid naturalism that modern films lapse into.  The actors project in this film, never mutter as they do in modern films, because the script expects it of them. The haunting John Barry score doesn't hurt either.

There's another and stronger reason, though.  Follow Me is something that films no longer manage.  It's charming.  It isn't arch, ironic, edgy, self-aware or any of those dreadful company.  I hate romances, but I love charm–especially when it talks to the universals, which is what defines art.  Follow Me is so delightfully middle class without feeling any obligation to be "authentic".  Theres a gentility and even tenderness that seems impossible today, but for all that, it is also wryly amusing with a dry wit to counterbalance a plot that could easily become mawkish.

Topol dominates the story, as he should, as the self-styled "public eye" and Mia Farrow has the proper air of a free spirit trying to live in a strait-laced new world.  The only unfortunate part of her performance is that, though it's made clear that she'd from California, her Belinda remains a very English character with very British lines delivered in an American accent.   That, however, is more Reed's fault for not having the lines properly translated.  Michael Jayston makes up the trio as the staid anchor of the piece who combines both the conflict of a character who needs to be less schoolmasterish and a husband who is seeing his wife slipping away from him and not knowing what to do.

It's not an easy film to find, but if you do happen to come across it, give it a go.

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