Film Scouts Diaries

1995 Montreal Film Festival Diaries
Montreal Diary #8

by David Sterritt

September 1, 1995

"Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going," the new film by Argentine director Eliseo Subiela, seems even longer than its wordy title.

The opening scenes are the best. First we see a young inventor pitch his idea for a dream machine - motion pictures, of course - to Thomas Edison in the late 19th century, and then we see grainy Edison-type footage of his funeral. Switching to the present day, we meet another young inventor who's working on a gizmo that scans your brain waves as you sleep and captures your dreams on videotape. His tinkering with the secrets of nature puts him in touch with the other main character, the spirit of a woman who's been his lover in various earlier lifetimes. Invisible to everyone except him, she hangs around his home and engages him in long, lachrymose discussions of how much they've always adored each other, and what a pity it is that he's reincarnated again while she's just a special effect this time around.

After about two hours the movie embarks on a remarkable series of false endings: Shot after shot appears to finish the story, complete with an elegant fade-out, but the darn picture keeps reincarnating itself with yet another scene we could have done without. It's incredibly long-winded, as if Subielo were taking his cue from a minor character who saddens our hero (a projectionist in his day job) by selling his beloved movie theater to a blustering preacher.

Subielo's screenplay has a sense of wit and whimsy running through it, but this is contradicted by the slow, ponderous style of his directing. The heavy, often joyless performances don't help. One tries to get into the picture's spirit, so to speak, but the task gets harder and harder as the plot inches along, and downright impossible as all those finales pile up near the end. How regrettable to see such an offbeat and ambitious project turn into such a sadly missed opportunity.

For all its shortcomings, Subielo's film is more successful than the new picture by Youssef Chahine, who has long been Egypt's most important director. Set in ancient times and loaded with sand, sun, and slaves, "The Emigrant" is like a Cecil B. DeMille historical epic with all the fun drained away, unless you can work up a campy appreciation for the sight of Michel Piccoli presiding over a desert tribe with an almost visible desire to rip off his silly costume and get back to real acting. Nor will non-Egyptians easily grasp the dicey religious elements that led Islamic leaders to ban the film. Long, leaden, and anachronistic, "The Emigrant" is best dismissed as an unfortunate mistake by an artist capable of better things.

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