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Culture Reviews
Alfie
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
Directed by Charles Shyer. Written by Elaine Pope & Charles Shyer (screenplay) based on the earlier screenplay by Bill Naughton (based on his own stage play). Starring: Jude Law, Ren?e Taylor, Jane Krakowski, Jeff Harding. 103 mins. USA/UK.

By Sam Gerrans

Review top sheet: a remake (with some alterations) of the well-known sixties’ film starring Michael Caine, “Alfie” complies with the original in that it is a cheeky-chappy narration accompanying a catalogue of seedy and unedifying sexual exploits.

The result can be viewed as an object lesson in how to become what is known by women the world over as a bastard.

Worthy though such an aspiration may appear to some, the film itself is flat, tired and dull.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: you went to see “Nine Songs” despite – or even because of – my unreserved slating of it, liked what you saw, and now want to know how to get to a place where you have problems similar to those experienced by the characters in that film
No, if: you go to see “Alfie” expecting a comedy in the sense of there being something funny to laugh at
Maybe, if: you are considering becoming a gigolo

Comments: I go to the cinema a lot these days. I have to. But I always arrive with a sense of hope: please, please, be good. I’m ready and willing – nay, desperate – to like what I see.

Unfortunately for me, so much of what makes it to the screen is pap and, to be honest, a chore to watch. “Alfie” might be worth a watch if you’ve got nothing better to do, but it’s candy-coated dross and there’s no point pretending otherwise.

Go and see it if you really need to block out your world for an hour or so, but don’t expect to be better equipped to deal with reality when you get back.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story: *
• Dialogue: *
• Substance: *
• Film craft: *

Story comments: an unconscionable English dandy-cum-sponger (Law) narrates his way through a catalogue of sexual conquests.

You can choose to regard the result as either a poor attempt to illustrate the tensions between vanity, morality and commitment or a reasonably thorough how-to on getting and ditching women.

The film is heavily dependent on our getting entrenched in the envy zone (while Alfie philanders about with a number of great-looking chicks who all dote on him), before attempting to kick the football of what it would have us regard as the point into touch.

It tries to impose a three-act structure on the main protagonist’s uncoordinated flitting from one flower to another, but the result is, predictably, superficial and unconvincing.

Dialogue comments: the protagonist (Jude Law) is cheeky and charming and genetically incapable of forming any decision independently of how he feels about the latest attractive woman to enter his radar.

Law really works for me in “Gattaca”, for example. His well-fed, public-school boyish sneer is convincing and appropriate. In “Alfie”, his personal charm (and I mean here the look of a boy not only adored by his own mum, but by everyone else’s as well) works for a bit. But while it might be enough to get the girl at the tuck shop to give you free packets of crisps, it’s not a sufficient basis for an entire film.

Substance comments: I suppose the film is trying to demonstrate by overstatement the essence of the male conundrum.

To summarise: we men are hardwired to desire attractive females. But, having found an attractive female, we can find an almost infinite number of other females equally or more attractive than the one we have. Enduring societies develop structures – morals, taboos and laws – to protect themselves from the decline which would ensure if we all gave free rein to the contradictions inherent in this situation.

Alfie – unsurprisingly, given Hollywood’s almost religious commitment to demonstrations of sexual abandon – is not fussed with any of that. His approach to the conundrum is very simple: shag more women. Moreover, his inability to resolve himself on this issue is both the engine behind – and purpose of – his existence.

Men whose worldview is wholly dependent on this kind of activity become uninteresting very quickly since they are, in essence, weak. They are not heroes striving for an ideal. They are couch potatoes with dress sense.

The film intimates that it wants us to draw conclusions of a semi-tragic nature from the heap of one-night stands and broken hearts Alfie leaves in his wake. But it is not clear exactly what these conclusions are.

Ultimately, I’m inclined to think the makers themselves had only a passing idea what ideological premises were driving this project forward – the main point being to get lots of shagging in.

And since the film is not entirely sure what its point is, we can hardly be expected to have grasped it either.

Film craft comments: functional; pleasantly shot.

A taste of the story: Alfie shags lots of women. Then he shags lots more.

This gets him into trouble.

He has an epiphany through which he learns a poignant truth: it’s time to shag more women.


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

24.03.05
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