movieThemes: Alan Rickman
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MESMER (1994)

Cast: Alan Rickman, Amanda Ooms, Anna Thalbach
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Producers: Susan Cavan, Andras Hamori, David E. Jones, Alexander von Eschwege
Screenplay: Dennis Potter
Cinematography: Elemer Ragalyi
Music: Michael Nyman
Approximate Running Time: 107 minutes
Warnings: Sexual suggestion
Rating: (Rating may improve with a DVD...)

Alan Rickman as MesmerCategory: History/biography

The Plot: Franz Anton Mesmer is an Austrian doctor credited with the first person to possibly use hypnotism.

Comment: To read the synopsis of this film is to get a tingle down up and down your spine... Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th century German physician, ranks with the great pioneers of modern history but remained a man ahead of his time. As such, he is intriguing, eccentric and brilliant. And few believe him. Mesmer believed that the body contained a mysterious magnetic force which could could be rebalanced to return the body to health, something which has only recent started to be proven in modern history. While his contemporaries conducted 'blood-letting' by purging or leaching to rid people of any mysterious illnesses, Mesmer combined playing a glass harmonica with murmuring suggestions as they were lulled. He effectively, hypnotized them and is attributed to be the first person to use hypnosis as a form of therapy. Yet, he was ridiculed by his contemporaries and persecuted out of the aristocratic society he had married into.

Sounds absolutely fascinating... and it absolutely failed to deliver. Literally - until the Internet boomed and online video stores started selling the video, the world had largely not seen this movie owing to a dispute with the financial backers. They felt the script had greatly changed from the movie they had backed, and also felt that Rickman had failed to deliver a charismatic Mesmer as they would have liked. So the movie was never released except in Canada where Rickman went onto win an award for Best Actor at the Montreal World Film Festival.

The maudlin screenplay, the last by the dyeing Dennis Potter (he died of cancer shortly afterwards), is very badly backed up by an extremely poor soundtrack. Whoever edited this film and felt that authenticity would be assisted by making sure we knew everyone was talking in large chamber prone to echoing was not giving the script any assistance at all. If anyone is projecting their voice to convey a point, it is lost in the echoes, if someone is whispering or murmuring, it is lost in the background hiss of the chamber or birds in the trees... And if we should by chance be in a room with minimal echoes, a sound track usually blares in, obliterating the voices. I haven't seen the DVD version of this, but if it has cleaned up the sound, no doubt my appreciation of this movie will rise somewhat, if nothing else because I can hear what the plot is..!

With a maudlin script and bad sound, you may wonder if it is worth tracking down this film. If you find the DVD version - probably! Roger Spottiswoode has gone for the austere approach to the 18th century, with bright colors but sparse decoration and little embellishment. Thus the flowers in the sunny garden and extravagant clothes of high society contrast colorfully and warmly with the spartan greyish-white buildings. With an ailing script, he has focused on drawing out the best from the performers (albeit, he dwelled too much on women moaning - whether in pain, insanity or pleasure).

It would be easy to cast Amanda Ooms as just another pretty face in the movie, but when she regains her vision and faces her father for the first time, she metamorphoses into a hard women with such surprising ease that one wants to applaud her.

As for Alan Rickman, this was to be his first film where instead of playing an overtalented supported role to some average American actor, he was to come into his own with the daring lead role of Franz Anton Mesmer. In defiance of the pouncy white wigs of this time, Rickman's Mesmer flaunts his longish blonde hair and wears his clothes with a sense of flourish and extravagance as he strides about confidently curing the insane in one scene, deflating like a balloon in the next as his confidence is challenged. Shades of Rickman's Emmy Award Winning performance from Rasputin are very evident in this film, and he truly shows how magnificent an actor he is. Whereas most actors can be pigeonholed as being better in some parts than others, Rickman shows true versatility as he sucks you into the mad and eccentric world of a genius ahead of his time, a complete contrast to his early career-defining roles as a villain in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Then Mesmer is practicing his medical cures, Rickman is bold an confident. When Mesmer is suddenly faced with the Baron who has a voice fed on helium, he wilts in the face of the enormity of what he has to cure. And always, Rickman refrains from delivering any cliched Hollywood scenes which involve bodice ripping and other sexual innuendo's, thus strengthening the integrity of the character. Now, if only one could have actually heard his magnificent voice instead of it being lost in the surrounding echoes of the set...

To see Rickman in his first lead role and to learn a little bit more about the fascinating historic figure, Mesmer makes for interesting viewing. My only advice is to try and seek a copy with 'clean' sound so that the bulk of the film isn't lost in the experience of you simulating someone going deaf...

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