'Creditors' Movie Review: Ben Cura Creates a Visually Stimulating Adaptation of Strindberg's Great Play
Director Ben Cura knew that taking on August Strindberg for his first feature film would be a monumental task, an endeavor that ultimately took his years upon years to complete. From adaptation of the Swedish playwright's "Creditors," to the funding of the project, the production and eventually completion, the director was challenged time and again. The film recently made its world premiere at the Nordic International Film Festival.
That arduous dedication has paid off with "Creditors" turning out to a triumphant debut.
While Cura deviates from Strindberg in the scope of the play, the essentials are still there. Freddie Lynch (Cura) is a former painter whose life has taken a turn for the worst. He is currently residing in an inn waiting for his wife Chloe Fleury, a famed, but apparently mediocre, author, to return from a trip. He is beset by an illness that has left him handicapped, relying instead on crutches to move about. In his solitude enters Grant, a mysterious man who takes a rather odd interest in Freddie, slowly dissecting details about his life and marriage and in turn seemingly riling the youngster up to fight for his rights instead of letting his deceitful wife continue eating away at him.
This relationship eventually leads to the wife's return and Freddie's new understanding of his marriage. Finally the film climaxes in a confrontation between Grant and Chloe as their pasts converge in a massive battle of wills.
In Strindberg, the dynamics between the two men are far different. Gustav, Grant's corresponding character, is more poisonous to the husband Adolf. He tells Adolf to stop painting and take up sculpting; he eventually tells him that the sculpting is not for him either and simply puts him down time and again.
The dynamics are a bit different here with Freddie seemingly doing the damage to himself, his jealous nature creating the debilitating illness and feeding it. Grant in contrast is seemingly pushing him to find his resolve and in a potent scene, takes the crutches away and has Freddie stand on his own.
Yet there is a sense that Grant is an overbearing figure at times. In the aforementioned scene where Grant takes away Freddie's crutches, the camera is placed at a low angle and focuses on Grant circling the paralyzed Freddie. In another scene in Freddie's stuffy room, Cura and cinematographer Ben Hecking frame Grant as a massive shadow dominating the frame while Freddie, lying in bed from a distance looks small and vulnerable.
Flashbacks also play a prominent role in this film, uncovering the links between the three characters while adding a more rhapsodic feel to the opening; the beginning is what a Terrence Malick film would look like in black and white.
Yet this film ultimately feels more in line with Strindberg's compatriot Ingmar Bergman and other filmmakers of the mid-20th century. Filmed in black and white and featuring one lengthy dialogue after another, "Creditors" owes a tremendous amount of its success to the image systems it employs throughout. Grant's dark attire contrasts greatly with Freddie's, who starts off with lighter vestments but slowly wears darker and darker clothing, the former infecting the latter and pushing them both toward a tragic end. Chloe's clothing is also replete with this symbolism, her arrival on the scene featuring an alternating black and white top, making us question her allegiance to Freddie, but also linking her with Grant's darker palette. That will play a crucial role when the revelations are finally made. Of course the moment she undresses to reveal pure black undergarments, she takes on a similar role as Grant does in Freddie's life, a master manipulator that is overpowering and debilitating him.
The choice of locations is also rather potent with early interactions between the two men taking place across a wide range of locales, yet there is always a sense of imprisonment. One scene takes place in a forest. A lengthy two-shot details their walking freely through the space until eventually a punctuating wide shot shows an immobile Freddie surrounded by hoards of trees creating mini-jail cells everywhere.
The second act, in which Freddie confronts his wife, takes place inside of a windowless room; the sense of claustrophobia is palpable, though the director and his cinematographer manage a plethora of angles that keep the action dynamic and ever-evolving.
The final sequences takes place in a church, a powerful choice when considering that this is a reckoning and final judgment for all involved. Losing Freddie in the climax for an extended period is maybe the only major setback to the editing here, as his prolonged absence lowers the stakes slightly, making the viewer forget about him while the interaction between Grant and Chloe gains steam. It is a minor gripe in an otherwise solidly made film.
The music, composed by Nina Aranda, takes one yearning theme and constantly transforms it, a transformation that shows human complexity in all its variation. At one point it is threatening, at another delicate. Each iteration highlights the emotional beats of the scenes and the transformation of the converging relationships.
The trio delivers masterful performances. Cura's Freddie is a vulnerable man who wants to be better, but has some sort of mental block preventing him from achieving the courage and strength to retain a sense of autonomy. His moments of seeming strength are actually greater signs of his weakness; at one point he attempts to murder his wife in a fitting rage, but ultimately succumbs (an overt reference to Shakespeare's "Othello" which has often been associated with "Creditors"). Christian McKay is a menacing Grant, a man that is composure embodied, never showing any signs of weakness or fear. Deck straddles the line between the two, at times dominating over her husband, while at others looking just as weak and vulnerable as him, maybe even more.
"Creditors" has shown that Cura has a tremendous future as a visual storyteller, his ability to deliver a strong performance coupled with a compelling film based on the work of a famed writer is a truly remarkable feat.