Amontillado, Directed by Carolina Gómez de Llarena
Amontillado adapts Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, ‘The Cask of Amontillado’, for the screen. In addition to the change in medium, the film features differences in the story itself: instead of taking place in Italy’s carnival season in the 19th century as does Poe’s short story, the film takes place in modern-day Paris. Poe’s story is a murder mystery about revenge, and while the film retains its structure, the difference in media changes the story’s focus and shifts the perspective of its audience.
Montresor (played by Alexis Desseaux) and Fortunado (Jean-Louis Tribes) have a mysterious and tense past, so when they meet by chance at a wine tasting in Paris, Fortunado’s biting conversation meets Montresor’s visible discomfort. They are both wine aficionados, and the story’s title refers to a highly sought grade of Spanish sherry which Montresor claims to have acquired at his winery. The conversation, instigated by Fortunado, touches upon their respective skills in deciphering the tastes of wine. In response to Fortunado’s remark that the wine being offered presently at the tasting (from ‘Chateau Berenice’) has not aged quite enough, Montresor agrees at the same time as he foreshadows: ‘Yes, you’re right: it should’ve spent more years in the cellar.’
‘Now, that’s a good observation, for a change!’ responds Fortunado. ‘Well done! Because I remember: at the “Vignerons Independants”, you confused the Cabernet Sauvignon with a Cabernet Franc.’ He laughs, but Montresor grows increasingly uncomfortable. At Montresor’s mention of a 150-year-old Amontillado in his cellar, however, Fortunado shifts his condescending tone to implore that they go immediately to taste the rare sherry.
The cinematography (by Rayssa Kanso) melds with the Parisian landscape, following the perspectives of the people walking through the streets in well-timed, organic movement. The camera flows with the energy of the city and the criss-crossing movement of its inhabitants. Conversations between Montresor and Fortunado, on the other hand, are presented statically, as are the pathways they traverse in the depths of Montresor’s massive, labyrinthine wine cellar. The music (by Samy Daussat) is simple and subtle, and serves primarily to accompany their perilous descent underground. While the protagonists descend, writer and director Carolina Gómez de Llarena plays with the symbolism of light and darkness: the cavernous spaces cast light onto their bodies in ways that suggest dark and hidden motives beneath facades of cordiality.
The film is a nice adaptation of the work by Poe upon which it is based, but the change in media poses some problems for which Gómez de Llarena fails to provide adequate artistic solutions. Poe delivers the original story from the perspective of the murderer, who tells the story in detail to a close unnamed friend decades after the fact. The mystery is not the identity of the murderer, but the motive for his act. Poe’s story is rich in subjective (and arguably unreliable) narration which reveals the interior world of the murderer as much as it details the scene of the crime, but which keeps obscure his motives. Montresor and Fortunado share a dark past, but its specifics are unclear — as is the reliability of the narrator’s perception of that past. One does know, however, of his intent to kill — an insight which allows the reader to appreciate wrenching dramatic irony when the killer interacts with his unsuspecting victim. There are many layers to this literary mystery. Transposed to the screen, however, the layers begin to chip away.
First, the narrator himself disappears, and as he does so does our clear view of his interior world. Neither is there the same doubt about the reliability of his story once the camera no longer seems to represent the viewpoint of any particular character. It appears to record — however artfully — an objective state of affairs rather than a subjective interpretation of them, gesturing toward motives, but not articulating them. The camera documents a murder, leaving no doubt as to the accuracy of its perspective. And where the narrator disappears, dialogue steps in as the instrument by which the filmmaker reveals the internal states and motives of her characters. In this latter respect, the cinematographic adaptation is sorely lacking. The dialogue is forced and inorganic. The relationship between the two main characters is unrealistic and strained by a bizarre combination of affection and animosity. (Their actions do not make much sense either, and in this respect the film departs markedly from the original story.) The characters are confusing, and the dialogue paradoxically reveals too much about them: what was for Poe a mysterious motive and unknown past becomes trivially known and tragically obvious. (The facts of the characters’ pasts are the invention and interpretation of the filmmaker, but they become the facts of the film.) As a result, the central mysteries of Poe’s work fall away: Is the murderer telling the truth? Why does he want to kill? What led him to this point? All are answered — and replaced by more banal questions. The film is well-articulated, but pales in comparison to the original story. ■
Runtime: 14 minutes
Genre: Mystery, Short
Find out more
Find out more about this film and its director on the pages for Amontillado and Carolina Gómez de Llarena in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) as well as the film’s pages on Facebook and Twitter. Carolina Gómez de Llarena is an independent Spanish/Venezuelan filmmaker based in Paris. Amontillado has screened internationally and is a 2015 recipient of the Award of Excellence at the San Francisco Film Awards. In 2015, it was featured in the Short Film Catalogue of the Cannes Film Festival.
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: A scene from ‘Amontillado’. Courtesy; EICAR.