Film Review | Adormidera

A memorable strangeness seems to power the diction and the actors’ performances: the twanging panoply of Maltese-inflected sounds take you away from the story.

Knight fever: Andrei Claude as Tristan of Leon.
Knight fever: Andrei Claude as Tristan of Leon.

If nothing else, Adormidera is a major vote of confidence for local medieval re-enactors. Already making their presence felt quite strongly during events like Medieval Mdina, local dress-up and armour-up troupes Anarkon and Show of Arms have now been given an opportunity to strut their stuff on the big screen (the coveted Cinema 16 at Eden Cinemas, no less), and their (often handmade) creations work a charm to evoke a medieval world gone by.

Or, at least, they plunge the viewer far enough into a swords-and-sorcery world familiar to us, thanks to properties like The Lord of the Rings and, indeed, Game of Thrones - the first season of which was in fact partly filmed on our shores.

Unfortunately, director Ray Mizzi is also determined to turn this creation into a bona fide film.

Which is where the trouble starts.

Mizzi introduces us to 'Malta's First Epic Movie' - going by the poster's ambitious tagline - through a scene that's equal parts Gladiator (stylised, wistful shots of horses and high grass) and Inglourious Basterds (mud-caked little girls running for their lives). Hinting at the fate or, rather, lifelong-curse  of our titular (anti-?) heroine, the narrative then shifts to the aftermath of what - as we're told through a ponderous voiceover - was a bloody battle.

Groggily emerging from a battle-weary stupor, the soldiers Ivor (Derek DeGaetano) and Tristan of Leon (Andrei Claude) - whose name you'll hear repeated ad nauseam, lest you forget what the protagonist of this 90-minute 'epic' is called - are forced to wander the land (though it's never really made clear which land we're talking about here, exactly) until they find shelter and plan their next move.

After a brief sojourn at the Singing Blacksmith's (Joseph Calleja) cosy family abode, Tristan and Ivor reunite with three of their battlemates, eventually making their way to the well-fortified castle run by the mercurial Lord William (Henry Zammit Cordina) - who may or may not have an ominous link to Tristan's past.

Ostensibly stopping off at Lord William's place for a spot of R'n'R, our ragtag band of war veterans  end up hanging around much longer... largely due to the fact that Tristan catches the eye of Adormidera (Audrey Harrison) - a mysterious woman that Lord William appears to be keeping under lock and key at his castle.

Mizzi has complained that the budget is the real stumbling block for any local film production of this kind, but seeing Adormidera, you begin to think that cosmetic issues are only a miniscule part of the problem.

Though a rambling story is practically part and parcel of the medieval-fantasy, sword-and-sorcery genre - the Lord of the Rings saga has taught us that 'walking around bucolic scenery' is an essential part of the deal - Adormidera seems to take many narrative lessons only at face value, particularly on this count. Our heroes proceed on their journey initially with very little purpose, save for getting from point A to point B; and all it takes for things to take a twist for the dramatic is for our hero to be struck by cupid's arrow on sight of a mysterious little waif that captures his heart.

Never mind the fact that the costumes look okay and that the on-location scenery - some of it seemingly photoshopped in - is actually passable B-movie fantasy fare: the fact that the story feels as though it's been made up on the spot (and, worse, cobbled together from riffs on earlier, superior films) is what kills any possibility of a dramatically satisfying story.

 If any proof of the script's weakness were needed, a ludicrous, 11th-hour twist involving the titular character provides it (were it played up for laughs, it may have gone somewhere... but in line with the rest of the film, it's played dead - read, deadly - serious).

But Mizzi's direction isn't capable of salvaging the film either. Shooting everything with either nauseating shaky-cam or in sloppy close-ups, you never get a sense that you're in safe hands as a viewer. The world looks threadbare as a result, even if its cosmetic production seems to have been a labour of love.

There are scenes that could have done with a trip to the cutting-room floor. Chief among them is a love-scene-cum-erotic-dream-sequence. Sex scenes are never easy to execute gracefully or tastefully at the best of times - in either film or literature. But shoot your PG-friendly love scene with blurry slo-mo and under the pall of strummy 'medieval' music - so it ends up resembling a porny Cisk advert - and you're asking for trouble.

A memorable strangeness also seems to power the diction and the actors' performances. First, there's the accents - the subject of a boring polemic with all sorts of dull social implications in Malta that I don't want to waste much column space on - but the fact is that the twanging panoply of Maltese-inflected sounds take you away from the story.

Funnily enough it's Derek DeGaetano who feels the most natural out of the bunch - a bit surprising, considering he plays the 'Eastern European Knight' of the group. More often than not, though, voices are very clearly - and very clumsily - dubbed, and the result comes across as resembling those easy-to-parody English translations of kung fu films from the 70s.

Adormidera seems to operate with the greatest goodwill in the world. You can't fault its grit, as it goes against the odds to craft a Maltese medieval epic... seasoned, incidentally, with an appropriately rousing soundtrack by Slovenian composer Jure Peternel, which appears to be in 'epic' mode even during the quietest scenes - adding to the jittery awkwardness of Mizzi's project.

But wouldn't it be better to just scale back the spectacle and produce something charming, local and more cost-effective instead? 

I want to say that the Winter Moods track playing at the end credits makes it all worthwhile, but...

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Excellent review.I almost fell into laughing when I was presented with an EPIC film. Actors tried their best but the directorship of this film is minus 10. What annoys me most is the director complaining for lack of funds. What is he expecting that we fund his hobby ? Why does he not look for sponsors etc. Furthermore to be a good director you have to study and study and after years of practice you will near to your goal. positive about the film are winter moods and the armed knights. The rest better to be forgotten as EPICly (sic) possible