Captain Ahab review

:. Director: Philippe Ramos
:. Starring: Denis Lavant, Jacques Bonnaffé
:. Running Time: 1:40
:. Year: 2008
:. Country: France


  


Captain Ahab opens with the close-up of a bush which belongs to the late mother of Captain Ahab, the man who would later become notorious for taking on a big white whale named Moby Dick. For a while I kept wondering why the filmmaker, Philippe Ramos, chose such a shot to start a quite literary piece — some might argue it is obvious because it's a French film —, especially as the first third of the film is pretty heavy on sexual escapades. But as we follow the evolution of this character, from his youth to the final confrontation with the whale, it becomes clear that Mr. Ramos interprets the captain's rage against the animal as a representation of sexual frustration in which killing becomes a sexual act.

This quite interesting variation on Herman Melville's character is solely the fruit of Mr. Ramos' imagination in which Captain Ahab was the chance to interpret and complement a masterwork, which pretty much started where this film ends.

The filmmaker paints a portrait of Ahab as a rebellious and cruel figure, an orphan in love with an older girl he could never have and who, as a result, became bitter, using whales as the object of the anger he accumulated in him against women throughout the years.

Mixing cerebral themes and sexuality is pretty popular among French intellectual filmmakers (see for example Bertrand Bonello's Pornographer), a trend that Mr. Ramos fully embraces here, twisting and corrupting in the process a classic family friendly story. His approach also owes to European masters such as Jean-Luc Godard and Marco Ferreri as he is not afraid to emphasize anachronisms (see Alphaville and Don't Touch the White Woman!). While he keeps the American root of the story (names of characters, cities, etc â), he transplants its setting to France, without ever trying to make it look American. The fact that all the characters speak and dress French in a region that suspiciously looks like Brittany emphasizes the universality of a story that became a classic around the world. By appropriating the myth of Moby Dick and turning it into a French story, Mr. Ramos shows us that some classics belong to the world and have no boundaries. It's also an interesting twist: for decades Americans have appropriated French classics into overblown Hollywood fare; here Mr. Ramos turns the tables on American appropriation.

Moving at a slow — almost naturalistic — pace and fueled with by metaphors that transgress the straight-forward narrative of the original story, Captain Ahab isn't destined towards mainstream fans of Herman Melville's novel but rather to amateurs of French cinema in its more daring and intellectual incarnation.



  Fred Thom


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