The aristocratic Tony moves to London and hires the servant Hugo Barrett for all services at home. Barrett seems to be a loyal and competent employee, but Tony's girlfriend Susan does not ...
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In this adaptation of the Thomas Mann novel, avant-garde composer Gustave Aschenbach (loosely based on Gustav Mahler) travels to a Venetian seaside resort in search of repose after a period... See full summary »
The aristocratic Tony moves to London and hires the servant Hugo Barrett for all services at home. Barrett seems to be a loyal and competent employee, but Tony's girlfriend Susan does not like him and asks Tony to send him away. When Barrett brings his sister Vera to work and live in the house, Tony has a brief hidden affair with her. After traveling with Susan and spending a couple of days in a friend's house outside London, the couple unexpectedly returns and finds Barrett and Vera, who are actually lovers, in Tony's room. They are fired and Susan breaks with Tony. Later, Tony meets Barrett alone in a pub and hires him back, and Barrett imposes his real dark intentions in the house, turning the table and switching position with his master. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"The Servant" was a film I had to think a lot about. Though I would not consider it as being flawless, it is a very interesting and indeed memorable piece of British cinema.
The characters itself could have been taken from P. G. Wodehouse's hilarious series of comic novels about the perfect butler Jeeves and his 'master' 'Bertie' Wooster, a young, superficial, and careless dandy who could not make one step without Jeeves constantly caring for him.
In "The Servant", a similar relationship is twisted in a much darker way: Hugo Barrett is not at all the faithful servant devoted to his master - though he appears to be at the beginning -, but a scheming, quite evil person who knows very well what he wants. (Though the real motives of his deeds do not become completely clear in the story - but this makes him probably even scarier.)
Dirk Bogarde was just wonderful. Most impressive. His body language, shifting from servile to casual, menacing or frivolous is meticulously developed and executed. The supporting actors were also good, notably James Fox. Sarah Miles tried everything to bring life to her rather cartoonish character, though she never could make me understand how Tony could be so sexually attracted to a woman like her in the first place.
I loved the homoerotic undertones of the Barrett-Tony relationship, especially in the second half of the film, after Barrett's return. They two men often act like a (gay) couple, especially in their disputes. There is also a great piece of dialogue between the two, written in tongue-in-cheek manner by Pinter, when they talk about feeling being "pals" and mention that they have felt like that "in the army before". The loveliest scene was the one where Barrett tells Tony that his "old flame" (Susan) has arrived and then says in a flirtatious manner "one yesterday - and one tonight" while holding Tony's face in his hand. We don't know yet at this point that he has invited some prostitutes, so this remark seems quite ambigous for a moment...
The symbolism is great, the many mirrors in the film forming a substitute for Barrett's gaze, never leaving Tony and Susan. There is also some phallic symbolism (most openly in the long shot of the garden just after the scene when Vera arrives at Tony's house). And Douglas Slocombe's black-and-white photography is just about incredible.
What I liked less about the film was that it was a weird mixture of what is basically a 19th century morality tale, but set in the 1960s and shot in the manner of the 1930s (the latter being no problem at all, but rather increasing the value of the film). The scenes with the women, especially the "erotic" scenes, were also rather awkward and very Sixties in style, so many of them seemed quite out of date, viewed today. The morality of the story was also quite flat in my opinion, and I must admit that I didn't care too much for Tony, this lazy and not very intelligent rich young dandy. In fact, I rather enjoyed Barrett catching the fly in his web...
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