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Film Reviews

 

"ALBERT NOBBS” by Linda Bergman

As I watched our KCET CINEMA SERIES screening last night of “Albert Nobbs" starring Glenn Close, I kept writing two words in the dark – ‘compelling’ and ‘curiosity.’  For me, the character, her performance and the direction compel you to watch with utter curiosity.


The film, based on a nineteenth century George Moore short story that was later turned into a play, has been a passion project of Close's for almost 30 years. (She won an Obie playing the title role in the play back in the early '80s, she co-wrote the film's screenplay, produced and even wrote lyrics to the vocals.)


The film tells the story of Mr. Nobbs (Close), a butler lucky to be working in a posh late-19th century Dublin hotel in a time of abject poverty.  In the back-story, we learn Nobbs was an illegitimate female child who never knew her true identity and took the surname of the woman who was paid to raise her. She was raped at fourteen, and so stigmatized, she then chose to disguise her gender as protection, but also so that she could earn a man's wages.


When we meet him, Albert’s worked hard as an impeccable servant for thirty years and saved judiciously, hiding his considerable fortune under a floor board in his hotel room. When the hotel owner forces Albert to take in a male house painter for the night, Albert’s secret is threatened and the story is off to the races. It isn’t long, however, before the painter, Hubert Page, exposes to Nobbs a secret of his own!


    It’s a strange tale, (and feels still like a short story) at times predictable and cliché, but deeply affecting with an emotional power that’s hard to put your finger on.  Although Albert has lost all female instincts, his actions pose questions about lesbianism and cross-dressing as he pursues a beautiful young maid played by Mia Wasikowska. (Alice In Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right, Jane Eyre).


It’s hard to take your eyes off of Close layered in prosthetics. She plays Albert as a timid, delicate soul mired in a tough world but because he/she is so compelling (there’s that word again!). Albert can’t disappear into the story because even when we are awed at how good a man she is – it’s still Glenn Close in costume.


I am sure this won’t be a problem come Academy Award time, but if you find yourself wondering, ”What it’s all about, Albert?” don’t say I didn’t give you a heads-up.


Director Rodrigo Garcia,(Revolution, Mother And Child, In Treatment) is true to form as we watch him illicit stunning performances out of his top-notch cast, especially Janet McTeer (Sense and Sensibility), Brendan Gleason (Harry Potter, The Gangs of New York) and Aaron Johnson (The Illusionist).