(2001) dir. Robert Altman
Gosford Park is a witty, entertaining film, both as a lightly comedic take on the English drawing room mystery and as a loose study of social class in 1920’s England.
Altman, an auteur with associated with more genuinely “American” subjects, is clearly an outsider to the world that he portrays in this film. It does seem that period, setting, and character were developed with attempted accuracy, leaning, I am guessing, on screenwriter Julian Fellowes for some English authenticity. I certainly wouldn’t be able to argue any of its short-comings in that area. The humanist perspective that characterizes Altman’s films is present here, too, showing particularly in his sypathetic portrayal of the working class servants.
The character of Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban) seems a self-reflexive “apology” to the English. He is an American director/producer who has come to the stately home to witness a big dinner party as research for a Charlie Chan film that he hopes to produce, which is to be set in just such an English country manner. He is even more myopic than the police inspector (Stephen Fry) who comes to solve the crime (yet utterly ignores both clues and the servants). The American sees only caricatures and surface details, totally oblivious to the murder mystery around him. He dictates his perception of the people and surroundings via overseas phone call, unaware of the events that are taking place around him.
If Weissman’s character is literally self-reflexive, how does that comment on Altman’s “American” perception of the people and environment that he is attempting to describe? Is the character an apology? Or just an attempt at self-deprecating humility?
The film reminded me quite a bit of Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu (1939), so much so, that I would be shocked if it was not somewhat conscious, especially given in social class subject matter. It’s been a while since I have seen La Règle du jeu, so I can’t really say more than that on it…just that I recognized it.