Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Grand Duke of Corsica, Set in Malta

The political assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia rocked the government of Malta. Many politicians and their allies were embroiled in the scandal, but to date, only the three thuggish assassins have been prosecuted. However, divine retribution might be coming in the form of an unusually virulent strain of malaria. British architect Alfred Rott might be lacking in social graces, but he is sufficiently professional to see his latest job through, despite the perilous outbreak in screenwriter-director Daniel Graham’s The Grand Duke of Corsica, which releases tomorrow on VOD (and opens theatrically in Brooklyn, just barely).

The Grand Duke lives in Malta, rather than Corsica, in the decaying luxury you might expect from a Thomas Mann novel. Rott originally came to the corrupt but picturesque EU member-nation to build a concert hall, but he did not suffer criticism gladly when the commissioning committee objected to his design’s resemblance to female sex organs. However, that leaves Rott free to accept the Grand Duke’s commission: his tomb.

Rott is not sure what to make of his potential client, but as he enjoys the noble’s hospitality, the architect starts to warm to his eccentricities and his commission. Weirdly, we are not sure what to make of the rest of the film, because Rott’s interactions with the Grand Duke are its most grounded scenes. Meanwhile, more or less, an up-and-coming actor is filming a production about St. Francis of Assisi, until the pandemic interrupts.

Corsica just doesn’t work as a film. Its deliberate artiness is rife with pretention, but it lacks the grand deliriousness of a film like Lech Majewski’s Valley of the Gods. However, it is not without its merits, primarily those of Timothy Spall, who is compulsively watchable as the blunt-spoken Rott. Wouldn’t you love to hear his character review this film? It would be brutal.

Likewise, Peter Stormare does his weird thing as the Grand Duke. You can maybe hear a little bit of Nic Cage in his scenery chewing, but having seen Cage’s future pyramid monument in St. Louis Cemetery #1 first-hand, that seems totally appropriate. Also, for what its worth, Rott’s memorial design is pretty cool looking.

There is a small but distinctive body of architect movies
Grand Duke inevitably joins. Peter Greenaway’s Belly of an Architect might have been a reference point for Graham, but the results never approach the greatness of King Vidor’s The Fountainhead or Eugene Green’s La Sapienza. Too muddled and too full of its own self-importance, The Grand Duke of Corsica is not recommended when it releases tomorrow (10/15) on VOD and opens for one screening per day at the Kent Theater in Brooklyn.