Tulip Fever

 

 

 

As a master class in understatement, one could say that TULIP FEVER is the result of a enormously talented collective of people.  Directed by Justin Chadwick (THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL) : adapted from the acclaimed novel by Deborah Moggach (who also wrote THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL) with a screenplay by Moggach and Oscar-winning playwright Tom Stoppard and a to-die-for cast that includes three Oscar winners (Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz and Alicia Vikander) who join Dane DeHaan, Holliday Grainger, Jack O’Connell, Kevin McKidd, Daisy Lowe, Cara Delevingne and Tom Hollander.  

 

Could anything possibly go wrong?

 

Yes, but despite some discernible flaws it is a truly gorgeous piece of film.

 

Set in 17th Century Amsterdam, the movie consists of dual stories.  Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is plucked from an orphanage in her late teens and wed to a much older merchant (Christoph Waltz) whose sole interest in her is the production of a male heir. This does not seem to be appearing to succeed, when three years later, he commissions a struggling artist, Jan van Loos (Dane de Haan) to paint Sophia’s portrait and the two begin an adulterous affair that leads to dire consequences.  

 

At the same time, the tulip industry was being born and changing the face of The Netherlands.  Importers engaged in scheming, lies and betrayal to dominate the lucrative market bringing the exotic bulbs in from the Far East.  What followed was a speculative bubble of truly crazed proportions as feverish deals were made in backrooms, taverns and brothels that saw people risking literal fortunes on a single bulb.  Jan and Sophia plan to find cash to buy in on the tulip bull market thus financing a fresh start for themselves in the New World.

 

Actually, the first half works relatively well but a seemingly endless array of subplots, sidebar stories, misdirections, illogical coincidences and muddled scripting ultimately drag the production down into a weighty mess.  

 

This may be the result of repeated volleys of changes, delays and edits. It was first optioned as a movie in 2000 but financing woes in 2004 saw it shelved until finally being shot in 2014.  The film was ‘tested’ with festival audiences at Cannes in 2015 which saw its release held back until July 2016 which was then put back to February 2017 and then August before being held back again for September.  During this run of delayed releases, it was subjected to volleys of re-cutting and numerous changes.

 

In addition to the chaotic nature of the credulity-stretching story with its jumpy pacing, most of the film, while always maintaining sumptuous visuals, is handled in a bloodless, passionless fashion that coasts along just this side of boring.  None of this is the fault of the cast who do their best with what they are given.  But when the characters on paper are depthless cardboard cutouts with dialogue that veers between bland and risible, even this glittering array of thespian heavyweights are stymied.  Judi Dench as an Abbess with a canny eye for the potential of the tulip explosion does give her role some sparkle but she is only on screen for about 15 minutes.  Alicia Vikander was physically perfect for her role which reminded me of another (although far superior) film about a Dutch painter obsessed with his model muse — THE GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING featuring Scarlett Johansson.

 

This film was the last released by the Weinstein company before it was engulfed in scandal recently.  The costumes, production design and rich palette of colors make this an aesthetically pleasing period drama.  But on all other levels it fails.   

 

 

 

 





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