Image B+ Sound A Extras A+
starring Joel Bissonnette, Lindy Booth, Colm Feore, David Hewlett
screenplay by David Weaver and Bridget Newson
directed by David Weaver
by Walter Chaw A little of Mystery Train, a little of Barton Fink and Hotel Room, a little of Million Dollar Hotel and Aria, and eventually too much of Four Rooms, Canadian David Weaver's debut feature is the flawed Century Hotel. Rife with the Freudian implications of a hotel composed of one hall and one room (and all its attendant illicit sexual fixations), the picture carries seven story lines in seven different periods set in the same room of (presumably) the titular inn. Without a traditional framing story and united only by a common theme of individual freedoms as expressed through sexuality, Century Hotel is the very definition of representational ambition (though I could have done without a champagne bottle cork transition emerging out of a homosexual kiss). In a film aspiring to fable with its virgins and whores, the critical lack of mothers and crones speaks to a certain lack of balance to the piece.
With its seven tales of the twentieth century (set in room 720, natch), Century Hotel begins on opening night in the 1920s and plows through plots involving an immigrant bride, a post-war soldier's reunion, a noir-ish tale about a suitcase, a tuned-out/plugged-in bit of psychedelia, a fantastic anecdote of Eighties detachment (with Mia Kirshner and Tom McCamus), and a post-modern millennial fin de siècle in which a pair of chatroom buddies indulge in a suicide pact. The picture's successes ride on fantastic performances by an all-Canadian cast (Colm Feore in particular reminds of his talent and presence), a nice script by Weaver and Bridget Newson (that nonetheless never completely exceeds the theatrical), and the fantastic set design and green-blue colour palette devised by Weaver, cinematographer David Greene, and production designer Julie Eknes.
Sadly, Century Hotel lacks poignancy at its moments of crisis. The relevancy of the stories to their eras is compromised by the film's need to twist the endings of its septet of vignettes for maximum ironic effect. The bits seem to progress towards a natural end, but with the exception of the Kirshner/McCamus segment, each is forced into some sort of poetic contrivance that undermines honesty and feel. Its sub-theme of unrequited passions is the overriding irony of Century Hotel in that the picture itself suffers from a bit of the ol' interruptus at the decisive point of climax. For the melancholy and steam of Kirshner's and McCamus's performances alone, Century Hotel gets a recommendation; for the varying weaknesses of the other plots and devices, that recommendation is not a strong one.
The showcase special feature on TVA's DVD release of Century Hotel is David Weaver's award-winning short film Moon Palace. Presented in a 1.85 letterbox transfer with DD 2.0 mono sound, Moon Palace places starving writer Tyler (Chad Donella) in the backroom of a bustling Chinese restaurant, tasked with eavesdropping on the customers and writing specific fortunes for their end-of-meal cookie. Irreverently playing with stereotypes, Weaver assumes the role of Norman Bates-ian voyeur, with the twin pay-offs coming early in Tyler's insouciant ogling of his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend's goods and then in his red-lit literary Peeping Tom-isms. Short and sweet at around twenty-five minutes, Moon Palace is clever, compelling, and surprisingly thought-provoking.-WC
TVA International's R1 import DVD of Century Hotel contains a well-saturated 1.85:1 widescreen transfer of the film that looks lovely despite a lack of anamorphic enhancement. With the exception of the opening moments, when there's noticeable "ghosting" of the Lindy Booth millennial punker character, the image is enticing. Moiré patterns are evident, however, in repeated shots of a radio. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is excellent for its restraint and clarity; there are few atmospherics (save a couple of entrances that are occasionally jump-worthy), but David Sures's score comes through all channels.
A feature-length commentary track from hyphenate Weaver, his co-writer Newson, producer Victoria Husk, and Greene is intimate and revealing. I appreciated that they introduced themselves in conjunction with how they came to be involved in the project, complete with the philosophies they brought to the film. Weaver serves as something of an emcee here, asking questions of the reticent Greene that lead to interesting discussions of the different visuals for each separate period of time. Though I eventually tire of author intentionality (both acts of creation--criticism and filmmaking--are distinct), Weaver, et al demonstrate a nice sense of balance and perspective on the shortcomings of Century Hotel. A six-minute featurette that reveals itself to be little more than the standard B-roll intercut with junket fare, Moon Palace (see sidebar), sparse cast & crew filmographies, a one-minute animated and scored photo gallery, and a nice theatrical trailer round out the disc. Originally published: May 21, 2002.