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The Magnificent Orson Welles

Friday, April 11, 2008
9:00 p.m. The Immortal Story
Orson Welles (France, 1968)

(Une histoire immortelle). In a mansion in Macao at the turn of the last century sits an aged merchant, Mr. Clay (Welles), with no family and nothing to do but contemplate his fortune. Mr. Clay believes in power, not in prophecies; facts, not stories. So he decides to make an oft-repeated seafarers’ boast come true, enlisting a no-longer-young beauty (Jeanne Moreau) to play his young bride, and a virginal sailor to enact the plot and later tell the tale. But some stories must remain untold—truth is their undoing. Welles adapts Isak Dinesen’s fable in mellow, melancholy tones, draping layers of narration over deep-focus images of ornate chambers and crumbling squares, with music by Erik Satie setting a measured rhythm. “By my brain and by my will, many things come together,” Mr. Clay says, and one could easily read his story as an allegory of moviemaking, his character somewhere in the margins between playing director and playing God.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Welles, based on a story by Isak Dinesen. Photographed by Willy Kurant. With Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Roger Coggio, Norman Ashley. (63 mins, Color, 16mm, From BFI Distribution)