A Haunting in Venice (2023)

The Influence of Inscrutability

Agatha Christie based films are a sort of bellwether for me. I think the most important trend in our culture just now is how we play with awareness. The most obvious and experimental centre for that is long form film. The most significant influence historically is the detective story, and the purest of those are from Dame Agatha.

This story is typical: relatively wooden characters, exotic and constrained locale, our avatar in discovery. The form of the general story has a few simple feints and one or two massive discoveries that change the role of key characters. Always, Poirot gathers the suspects and reveals yet more in terms of the sense of the murders. Then the unlikely villain is revealed, and everything we thought we knew is rewritten.

This depends — utterly depends — on the veracity of what we see in the situation that surrounds our detective. We never know what he is thinking until the very end, but the whole conceit is that we know what he does. Characters can cheat and lie, but (except for one notable experiment) never the storyteller. Everything we read is ‘true’, but with essential omissions and occlusions.

This screenplay has a completely different story, which is no sin. But what it does is present a mix of ‘story truth’ and our detective’s hallucination. That is, instead of being shown the real world but leaving out key bits, we have Poirot’s visions mixed in. The entire formula collapses.

Almost worse is the creation of an alpha character, the boy who we discover at the end lives in two ways in a larger world than what we have circumscribed.

This profoundly breaks the rules with no compensating replacement. I consider this yet another example why you don’t put actors in charge; they generally have a different focus than required. Branagh has messed up Shakespeare before, but that’s to be expected, in fact is so common it is unremarkable and Shakespeare has extra dimensions. Christie the way it is approached here is fragile. He broke it.

He does well with the camera, though.

Posted in 2023

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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