Review: Madagascar Skin

Madagascar Skin

1995 UK BFI/Channel 4 (ICA London)
(here on amazon)

This is a two-for-the-price-of-one movie and reflects an uneasy marriage of the respective styles of its two production companies. Like director Chris Newby’s first film Anchoress, it has all the leisurely style of a BFI art-house film. It lingers on beautiful shots holding up the narrative flow, but creating a reflective mood in the audience. Such meditations may be lost on those looking for the Channel Four style, the funny tender love story that is wrapped in the bejewelled exterior. Don’t walk out – the story happens in the last half-hour. John Hannah (whose reading of Auden in Four Weddings and a Funeral awakened the world to the grief of a longtime companion) plays Harry, a painfully shy refugee from an unrealistically portrayed urban club scene. His solitary existence leads to his meeting with Bernard Hill as Flint, the extrovert victim of an assassination attempt. A series of misunderstandings about each other’s sexuality are represented by disjointed incidents, half real, half jealous fantasy, that leave the audience as mystified as the couple are by each other.

As the lyricism of the art movie has induced us to follow Harry’s depression, Flint’s basic jollity is a shock which finally succeeds in shaking Harry and the audience out of the torpor of the first half and back to the rea life that ancroaches on their idyll in the second half. Although its slowness made it hard to watch, I find images and, particularly, lines of inimitable dialogue, lingering in my head. So I recommend it, but only if you are in the mood for meditation and are patient enough for its gentle humour to sink in.

SJD