I’ve just watched the film Hotel du Lac. It was made in 1986 and starred the actress Anna Massey who plays the part of a novelist who has dropped out of London life to stay in a Swiss Hotel in order to live down a small scandal. The film is based on an Anita Brookner novel.

The film is a film, but it is somewhat more like a stage play and since there is narration as well as picture it is also a little like reading a book - an interesting mix that does work rather well, enabling one to be close to the action, yet a detached observer at the same time, very like the character that Massey plays, who, as a novelist, is intensely interested in other people and their lives while being reserved herself.

As in a play, the other characters are all a little larger than life and the script is parsed down to essentials so that themes are stated more bluntly than in real life. One is, therefore, definitely watching art rather than a documentary or candid camera.

The whole is set in an expensive hotel on the shore of a Swiss lake whose extending grey waters provide a sombre backdrop and the mix of French and English culture is used to add finesse. The pathos of several lives is delicately laid bare. The sub-plots - the aging widow, the rejected mother, the childless wife, the abandoned husband, even the wrongly accused waiter - are a gradually accumulating mound of private tragedies that give depth to the dilemma of the lead character. It is a powerful film, distinctly existential, with no final resolution nor prospect of any end to human anguish. There is romance pitted against the quest for authenticity, neither of which triumphs, yet life goes on the more vividly for being close to the cutting edge of the human condition.

Well worth viewing if you have not already seen it.

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The film (and book) is a potent reflection upon the gap between reality and what we want to believe. Thus, the conversation about how the Cosmopolitan-reading, career woman still would still prefer to believe in a knight in shining armour battling obstacles to win her alone; the observation that a winning formula is one in which the “mouse” or “tortoise” wins the race over the “lion” or “hare”; the heroine writing a letter subtly condemning her lover when she believes that she is going to marry, then tearing up the letter and going back to him when she contemplates what marriage might actually be like. Also, the cynicism of several of the characters that evidently serves not as conviction, but rather as camouflage for the racking pain of disappointments hard to digest. The hotel is a kind of prison for unwanted women - "not waving but drowning" - but it symbolises everybody, locked up in their artificial prisons, oscillating between different poles of wistfulness - past, present, future and, most powerfully, imaginary.

I remember reading the book many years ago when it first came out and finding it terribly dull and depressing. You make it sound so much more interesting than what I recall. I was in my early twenties. Perhaps a re-reading at my age would be worthwhile.

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