Christine Malry’s Own Double Entry



Paul Tickell : UK/Holland 2000 : 98mins

B S Johnson’s renowned – if not widely read – experimental sixties novella is probably unfilmable, so it’s surprising just how well so much of this adaptation manages to work. It’s even more striking, given the scale of the disastrous structural decision to split the narrative in half and constantly alternate back and forth between the present, in which blank-faced office clerk Malry (Nick Moran) applies accountancy principle of debit and credit to his everyday life, and 15th century Italy, in which mathematician Pacioli devises and publicises the double entry method in between drinking bouts with his pal Leonardo Da Vinci.

The Johnson novel mentions and quotes Pacioli, but these dramatised scenes are pure inventions for the movie, and they serve no purpose other than to disrupt whatever rhythm and atmosphere Tickell manages to generate in the story proper. After a while, you stop even trying to follow or integrate the medieval material into Malry’s story, and instead enjoy the film’s two terrific trump cards – Moran, whose limitations as an actor prove ideal for the cipher-like Malry, and, even better, the eclectic, scabrous soundtrack by Luke Haines of the Auteurs.

Veteran Shirley Anne Field, meanwhile, has seldom been better than in her few scenes as his senile mother. Mostly a haggard, ravaged presence, she gets to show she’s still capable of movie-star glamour during a fantasy sequence late on – exactly like Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For A Dream, another film whose outstanding soundtrack was ultimately more impressive and coherent than the movie itself. But the high spots are, in both cases, often impressively high, and while Malry never reaches Requiem’s level, Tickell’s clearly got talent: he gives Field a surprisingly moving send-off to the resounding choral strains of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter,’ one of many biblical references that build to an audacious twist in the apocalyptic latter stages.

25th August, 2001                              
(seen Aug-21-01 on video – Edinburgh Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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