To say that Tamar Simon Hoff’s Red Roses and Petrol does little to avoid the critical application of that dreaded epithet “filmed theater” is not to try to make some specious claim about the superiority of so-called “cinematic” values over the theatrical. But to transfer a forgettable stage work to the screen, the filmmaker must do something with the material—either bring to bear an absolute formal mastery (Gertrud) or make a positive virtue out of the film’s very theatricality (Mélo)— otherwise she risks the double alienation (intellectual and emotional) of the viewer. In adapting Joseph O’Connor’s play—about an Irish family reuniting after the death of the father—Hoffs locks down her characters in unimaginatively framed medium shots, while mixing in a few monochromatic flashbacks, some video footage of the dead patriarch and two fast-cut sequences in a vain attempt at visual variety. All of which would be fine if the characters were in any way compelling, but even the most potentially interesting figures—the father, a college librarian played by Malcolm McDowell, who emerges via flashback as a man equal parts brutal and tender, and his impossibly obnoxious son, Johnny (Max Beesley), whose aggressively confrontational demeanor masks (surprise!) a great emotional wound (though it takes a noseful of coke to bring it to light)—seem too schematically conceived according to simplistic good/bad juxtapositions. Then the sort of family secrets that come to light in the film’s dramatic climaxes (physical abuse, drug problems) are more than a little shopworn and the film’s last-minute revelations prove to be considerably less fascinating than the filmmakers seem to think. Notwithstanding the occasional intrusion of wit (Johnny’s apt reformulation of Einstein’s theory of relativity: time crawls slowly when you spend it with your relatives) and life (a spontaneous Irish jig), the film feels as moribund as Malcolm McDowell’s character lying on his deathbed in the opening scene, asking the doctor how much longer he has left to live. That this question is itself a cliché should serve as adequate warning for the dreary conventionality of what’s to follow.
- World Wide Motion Pictures
- 97 min
- Tamar Simon Hoffs
- Tamar Simon Hoffs
- Malcolm McDowell, Olivia Tracey, Heather Juergensen, Max Beesley, Greg Ellis, Susan Lynch, Catherine Farrell
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