Mourning the recent death of his wife and wrestling with the demons of his past, a retired art historian (Ciaran Hinds; Munich) takes lodging at a seaside cottage under the eye of a watchful housekeeper (Charlotte Rampling), in this adaptation of revered Irish author John Banville’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel.
Though he has written screenplays for such films as Albert Nobbs and The Last September, revered Irish author John Banville — a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature — has not had a film adapted from one of his own novels since 1984's Reflections. Which makes it that much more of an honour for the Festival to host the North American premiere of The Sea, director Stephen Brown's adaptation of Banville's beloved 2005 Man Booker Prize-winner, an immersive tale of a troubled past engulfing the present.
Max Morden (Ciarán Hinds) is a retired art historian attempting to write a book about French painter Pierre Bonnard. Unable to cope with the recent death of his wife, Max retires to the seaside cottage where he spent a fateful childhood summer with the affluent Cedars family, whose matriarch he quietly pined for — and whose children possessed a troubling secret. When Max returns to the cottage the Cedars have long since vacated, he finds the estate is now looked after by Miss Vavasour (Charlotte Rampling). She witnesses Max's alcoholic descent into a private abyss, as he is haunted by unbearable losses that demand to be reckoned with.
Employing rapturous images of
waves — images reminiscent of Bonnard's
paintings — to sweep us back and forth in
time, The Sea alternately roils with fleeting
idyll and growing menace. There are intimations
of trauma lurking in Max's past.
We never lose our place in Brown's intricate
temporal weave, or in the emotional
layers conveyed by Hinds, whose pinched
mouth and furtive eyes exude a secret
ocean of memories. Here, in one of his most
compelling roles, this elegantly contained
and controlled actor keeps us transfixed —
and keeps us guessing until the film's dark
yet cathartic revelations.