Captain Ahab

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Locarno International Film Festival

LOCARNO, Switzerland -- Yes, it's that famous whale-hunter but French director Philippe Ramos uses "Moby Dick" for only the last fifth of his film "Captain Ahab," choosing to an invent a back-story that's more Mark Twain than Herman Melville. There's much to like in the sweeping tale of how a resourceful orphan grew up to become the fearless harpoonist and seeker of the great white whale. Virgil Leclaire has terrific screen presence as the young Ahab and, being new, his tale is more engrossing than the familiar story of the fated captain.

Flawed only by some anachronistically modern songs on the soundtrack, the film's well-drawn period atmosphere and gripping tale should see it sail into rewarding boxoffice territory around the world. It screened in Competition at Locarno.

Told as a fable, the yarn follows young Ahab after his mother's death and his temporary adoption by her pious sister Rose (Mona Heftre). But then his absentee father (Jean-Francois Stevenin) takes him away to live in a log cabin in the woods where they encounter a free-spirited nymph named Louise (Hande Kodja). Ahab is as enamored of Louise as his father but she dallies with a wandering rascal named Will Adams (Bernard Blancan) and soon their idyll is ended. The boy is returned to his aunt, but before she leaves, Louise gives him a locket with her name engraved inside and that becomes his talisman.

When his aunt gets married to a dandy who likes to use his cane on the lad, Ahab runs away and has a series of huckleberry adventures before he grows up to become an obsessed sea captain.

Ramos has a good sense of what is fun in a boy's adventure and whether or not his Ahab would have turned into the man in Melville's tale is another question. Much of the appealing whimsy disappears when the stern features of Denis Lavant show up as the adult Ahab.

His love affair with the widow Anna (Dominique Blanc) is handled well and so are the seagoing trials of the Pequod with the reliable Starbuck (Jacques Bonnaffe) at the tormented captain's side. But it's the wide-eyed wonder of the young Ahab and his captivating Louise that linger when the movie is done.

CAPTAIN AHAB
Sesame Films
Credits:
Writer/director/editor: Philippe Ramos
Executive producer: Florence Borelly
Director of photography: Laurent Desmet
Production designers: Ramos, Christophe Sartori, Erika von Weissenberg
Music: Pierre-Stephane Meuge, Olivier Bombarda, Tonio Matias
Co-producer: Olivier Guerpillon
Costume designer: Marie-Laure Pinsard
Cast:
Captain Ahab: Denis Lavant
Young Ahab: Virgil Leclaire
Ahab's father: Jean-Francois Stevenin
Louise: Hande Kodja
Rose: Mona Heftre
Mulligan: Carlo Brandt
Anna: Dominique Blanc
Starbuck: Jacques Bonnaffe
Minister: Jean-Paul Bonnaire
Will Adams: Bernard Blancan
Henry: Philippe Katerine
Jim Larsson: Pierre Pellet
King of England: Jean-Christophe Bouvet
Dr. Hogganbeck: Lou Castel
Running time -- 97 minutes
No MPAA rating
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