Hotel Splendide (2000, Terence Gross)

Hotel Splendide is based on a novel by Marie Redonnet. She doesn’t get any credit in the film, director Gross instead taking the full writing credit. Guess the WGA is good, actually.

The film having a novel source explains a few things, principally why Hugh O’Conor is narrating the movie. O’Conor’s ostensibly an aquaphobic staying at the titular hotel, a sanitarium set up on a remote island. I say ostensibly aquaphobic because the film implies, time and again, O’Conor’s really there for something else, and everyone’s been lying to him about his fear of water. There’s even the implication the hotel staff intentionally gave him aquaphobia to take his mind off his real problem, which—based on O’Conor’s character otherwise being entirely devoted to peeping on sexual congresses and playing solitaire with nudie cards—seems to have been him being a sexually frustrated serial killer.

Doesn’t matter because O’Conor disappears in the second act when the film finally gets around to letting Daniel Craig have some agency, only to bring O’Conor back to screw up the finish.

And it’s impressive Splendide’s gotten to a point where O’Conor can drag it back down. The film rallies big time when it really shouldn’t be, including turning Stephen Tompkinson into a dangerous villain when he’s previously just been a simpering mama’s boy without a mama. The mother ran the hotel, dying a year before the present action kicked off. Toni Collette has returned from the outside world, having left five years before when the mother disapproved of her and Craig’s love affair.

Someone—not Craig, who starts the film enraged at Collette for abandoning him—wrote Collette to beckon her back. Her arrival will ruin Tompkinson’s control over the hotel, which is killing off its residents and not getting any new ones since no one who’s been off the island still thinks eating nothing but eel and seaweed stew to constipate yourself and require daily enemas is a good idea anymore. Or at least, one would hope. Splendide requires a bunch of suspension of disbelief, like how the family running the hotel—who’ve presumably never lived anywhere else—have such good vocabularies or how they get power (they get gas by converting residents’ shit into methane to fuel the hotel forever, with the furnace being an angry stand-in for the departed mom), or why they seem to have new clothes. Maybe the novel explains it. Or perhaps the novel’s good enough it doesn’t have to explain it. Or perhaps the novel just avoids it like the movie.

The film starts with director Gross overestimating how charming quirky can be, especially since the quirkiness is laden with ableism, misogyny, and… icky. O’Conor’s icky without being dangerous, while Tompkinson is odious and potentially dangerous (though when the dangerous comes out, Gross makes it ableist to further villainize him, which is a lot). But the person who has it worst—other than maybe actually physically abused kitchen staff Toby Jones—is the sister, Katrin Cartlidge.

Tompkinson manages the hotel, Craig runs the kitchen, Cartlidge handles the physical therapy whether she likes it or not, and retired since his widowing dad Peter Vaughan just hanging around. The film presents Vaughan as a sympathetic old dodderer, too weak to stand up to the dead wife, but then has all these terrible details about him as he perpetuates a bunch of abuse. Gross seems entirely unaware because it involves women, and they aren’t really characters in Hotel Splendide, like when top-billed Collette essentially becomes Craig’s accessory for the second act.

At times, both Collette and Craig are quite good. Unfortunately, usually not in their scenes together. If they aren’t bickering about Collette literally not wanting to be abused by Craig’s family, Collette’s just silent when Craig does things. The third act doesn’t completely whiff their relationship development, but it comes pretty close. Then the denouement makes them irrelevant. It’s very messy.

Besides Collette and Craig, there are good performances from Cartlidge, Joerg Stadler, and Helen McCrory. Everyone else is fine, save Tompkinson and O’Conor, who are both terrible, though it’s unclear how much is Tompkinson’s fault and not just Gross’s script or directing. O’Conor’s, unfortunately, a charisma vacuum, with or without Gross.

Technically, Splendide hasn’t got much going for it. Gross’s direction of actors is slightly better than his composition, which wouldn’t matter if it were better because Gyula Pados’s photography is terrible. Though not as bad as Michael Ellis’s editing or, especially, Mark Tschanz’s music. The film relies on Tschanz’s score more than anything else, and, even with O’Conor’s annoying narrator, better music probably would’ve saved the day.

For a while, it seems like Splendide will end up being a mildly compelling oddity for Collette, Craig, and Cartlidge. Sadly, it doesn’t. Though it doesn’t fail Collette or Craig anywhere near as much as Cartlidge. It fails her something fierce.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.