Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Dead Mountaineer Hotel (1979)

DEAD MOUNTAINEER HOTEL is an Estonian film that was directed by Grigori Kromanov in 1979.  It stars Uldis Pucitis as Inspector Peter Glebsky, a detective who is summoned to a remote mountain hotel.  Initially, everything appears to okay but following an avalanche, which blocks access to the hotel, and the discovery of a dead body events take a sinister and perplexing turn.

The film is based on a 1970 novel by Russian sci-fi authors Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, who also wrote the excellent "Roadside Picnic" which served as the basis for Andrei Tarkovsky's equally excellent film STALKER (1979).  The sci-fi of the Strugatskys is light years, if you'll pardon the pun, from the simple space opera of STAR WARS; it is more concerned with the dangers, for both sides, of human interaction with alien intelligence.

It is also possible and perhaps obligatory to read the film as a condemnation of totalitarianism, if not Soviet rule itself.  It becomes increasingly clear that the authority figure in the film - Inspector Glebsky - ultimately relies on a hardline interpretation of the law which allows no room for compassion.  Further, his method is seen as archaic when faced with a sophisticated or novel situation; the only outcome, as far as he is concerned, is restoration of the status quo, i.e. he is a reactionary.

Unfortunately, as laudable and brave as the message might be, the film doesn't quite work.  It has an undeniably eerie atmosphere and a killer plot twist towards the end but there is a little too much repetition in the action and dialogue.  There are too many scenes of characters moving from one room to another, only to have a variation on the same conversation they have had before.  That problem is compounded by the use of exceptionally dark interiors; it adds to the gloomy atmosphere but has the ultimate effect of making the film difficult to follow.  I should add that my version was subtitled, the quality of which was variable to say the least.

I was pleased to see Juri Jarvet as the hotel manager, Snewahr.  Jarvet played Dr Snaut in Tarkovsky's hypnotic SOLARIS (1972), a particular favourite of mine.  As in that film, he is a delphic presence in this one and has a wonderful St Bernard who functions as the hotel's porter.

I know very little, if anything, about Estonian film culture - specifically its relationship to the USSR - but it would appear that this film's message was rather too explicit for the Soviet authorities, as Kromanov never made another film and died five years later, aged just 58.

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