UK-Fr-S Afr. 2004. 125mins.
An uninspiring Berlinopener, Man To Man offers audiences an efficient but ultimately rathertrite Technicolor workout for their European post-colonial guilt.
Regis Wargnier, director ofIndochine, here returns to a different jungle and a different colonialera with a story of three nineteenth-century Scottish scientists who use twocaptured African pygmies to stand up their research into the missing linkbetween apes and humans.
Lush cinematography, solidbut unexceptional performances by Fiennes and Scott-Thomas and reassuringlytraditional plotting are the chief attractions of this politically-correctpygmy romp; but the faint odour of mothballs that hang over the whole exercisewill alienate more sophisticated audiences who prefer not to have a film'smessage so relentlessly driven home. Families, older audiences and schools lookto be the film's main targets; it will also play well on the small screen.
Even the casting is tired:Fiennes as the keen, young anthropologist caught in a moral cleft stick, andKristin Scott-Thomas as a ballsy but ultimately rather lonely adventuress witha sideline in zoo and circus management, seem generated by some cast-o-maticcomputer programme.
But the script, written bythe director together with novelist William Boyd, has a couple of plus points.One is the development of the Elena van den Ende (Scott-Thomas) character, animpresario and importer of wild animals who comes to seem more ethical than theacademy scientists who look down on her.
The other is itsillumination of the levels of hypocrisy in a Victorian society which hadoutlawed slavery but which still condoned exploitation of what were consideredto be 'inferior races' for the purposes of scientific research, education orpure sideshow entertainment. Each of these fields eventually merges into thenext during the course of the film, andall are brought down to their lowest common denominator: racism.
Laurent Dailland'scinematography is suitably luxurious, setting up effective parallels betweenthe Central African rain forest and the conifer woods of the Scottish estatewhere the pygmies are kept, and missing no opportunity to illuminate Fiennes'sfurrowed brow and puffy shirt sleeve with warm candlelight.
The score is lessconvincing: pom-pom orchestral music that is so retro it's hard to takeseriously. But its corniness seems appropriate in a film where there is alwaysa burning stake at hand to start a lynch mob, where the members of a scientificacademy are all bearded racist bigots, where dialogue is too often used forplodding exegesis.
A lurch towards melodramaat the final hurdle, when the Fiennes character engineers a plot twist tooabsurd to reveal, had Berlin audiences chuckling, indicating the severeproblems of tone the film harbours in its final act.
Prod co: Vertigo Prods, Skyline (Manto Man) Ltd, France 2 Cinema, France 3 Cinema, Boreales
Int'l sales: Wild Bunch
Exec prod: Steve Clark Hall
Prods: AissaDjabri, Farid Lahouassa
Scr: RegisWargnier, William Boyd
Prod des: Maria Djurkovic
Main cast: Joseph Fiennes, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Iain Glen, Hugh Bonneville, LomamaBoseki, Cecile Bayiha