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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