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Under The Volcano

Under The VolcanoGiving one of the best performances
  of his legendary career, Albert Finney
  stars in John Huston’s perplexing film
  Under The Volcano..
.”


IN 1984, JOHN HUSTON brought the multi award-winning masterpiece Under The Volcano to film as an adaptation of Malcolm Lowry's epic novel of the same name. Set in Guernavaca, Mexico, during the Mexican fiesta The Day Of The Dead on 1 November, 1938, it covers twenty-four hours in the life of Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney: Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, Miller's Crossing).

Utilising The Day Of The Dead as a background, with skeleton puppets and figures in all manner of costume — including a bride and groom — adds a sinister air to the film and there is a similar degree of tension (although not quite so nerve-racking) as the classic Suddenly Last Summer where you just know something unpleasant will happen.

A pitiful character, Firmin is a former British Consul living in a small town in Mexico. An alcoholic, he has driven away his actress wife Yvonne (the remarkable Jacqueline Bisset: The Deep, Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills) with his self-destructive behaviour and, unable to come to terms with it or understand him, she has reluctantly divorced him.

His friend, Dr Vigil (Ignacio Lopez Tarzo) sees how much Firmin wishes his wife to come back and takes him to the shrine of Our Lady where they pray that Yvonne will return — although Firmin observes that it's like asking his fairy godmother for three wishes.

But miracles do happen. Come back she does, desperately disturbed by her husband's state of mind and determined to persuade him to leave Mexico and find somewhere where they can start all over again. But nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. "He on whose heart the dust of Mexico has lain will find no peace in any other land," her husband quotes at her.

Their life is further complicated by the fact that Yvonne has had an affair with her husband's half-brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews), who has been away fighting in the Spanish Civil War but soon puts in an appearance. As is clear from his drunken outbursts, Firmin can neither forgive nor forget — even though the three apparently rub along quite amiably most of the time.

The gentler side of Geoffrey Firmin is demonstrated in Under The Volcano. He is very tender towards a dog that follows him around and later he makes a fuss of a horse. He has apparently also looked after Yvonne's cat. There are lucid moments when he makes interesting observations and times when he is so completely out of control he is a danger to himself.

Finney's remarkable portrayal of Firmin has been cited by film critic Roger Ebert as "the best drunk performance I've ever seen in a film". Alone, such a masterful portrayal would be enough to make this film a must-see; combined with the beautiful script, stunning cinematography and deft direction, it renders it unmissable.

Brilliant dialogue is scattered throughout: "Surely you know by this time that I can't get drunk, however much I drink, and I'm only drunk in the conventional incoherent sense when I haven't had a drink?" says Firmin. "Surely you appreciate the fine balance I must strike between the shakes of too little and the abyss of too much." He also claims that hell is his natural habitat.

Under The Volcano incorporates some interesting shots, such as an elderly woman playing dominoes with a chicken: "How," Firmin asks, "without a drink inside you, can you hope to understand the beauty of an old woman playing dominoes with a chicken?"

Hugh has told his brother that Germany is financing a Nazi movement here in Mexico, and Firmin sees evidence of it. He is obsessed with his capture of a German submarine during the war and being given a medal and, again obsessively, he keeps all Yvonne's letters, unread, in his jacket pocket.

The magnificent, tranquil beauty of the landscape backdrop of Under The Volcano is at odds with the disturbed, alcoholic, out-of-control Geoffrey Firmin — a sometimes irritating, sometimes charming character who also reveals a side to him that is deserving of sympathy.

Like the fascinating volcano shrouded with clouds that serves as a background in Under The Volcano, there is no warning of a sudden eruption as Albert Finney portrays Firmin with astonishing ease alongside the brilliant foil of Jacqueline Bisset's long-suffering Yvonne.

Under The Volcano is also a film of regret — during his lucid moments, Firmin regrets losing Yvonne. Hugh regrets leaving his friends still fighting in the Spanish Civil War and feels like a deserter and Yvonne regrets her liaison with Hugh.

The sinister side to the film, beginning with Geoffrey, Yvonne and Hugh witnessing the last breath of a dying man with a white horse, is all the more shocking because of the suddenness with which it happens.

Acclaimed by critics, Under The Volcano is a delicate yet shocking film, served by a captivating script written by Guy Gallo and interpreted into an epic fever dream by visionary director John Huston, who turns a novel many believed to be un-filmable into a masterwork.

Shot entirely on location in the State of Morelos, Mexico, Under The Volcano also features Katy Jurado as Senora Gregoria; James Villiers as the Brit; Dawson Bray as Quincey; Carlos Riquelme as Bustamante; Jim McCarthy as Gringo; Araceli Ladewuen Castelun as Maria; Irene Diaz deDavila as Concepta; and Rene Ruiz (Tun-Tun) as the Dwarf. Director of Photography is Garbriel Figueroa; Edited by Roberto Silvi; Music by Alex North; Screenplay by Guy Gallo; Produced by Moritz Borman and Wieland Schulz-Keil; Executive Producer is Michael Fitzgerald; and the Director is John Huston.

Under The Volcano garnered a number of awards — 1984 LAFCA Award for Best Actor: Albert Finney; 1984 Cannes Film Festival Nomination For Golden Palm: John Huston; 1985 ALFS Award For Best Actor: Albert Finney; 1985 Academy Award Nomination For Best Actor: Albert Finney; 1985 Academy Award Nomination For Best Original Score: Alex North; 1985 golden Globe Nomination For Best Actor: Albert Finney.

Under The Volcano will be released on DVD, courtesy of Mr Bongo Films, on 22 September, 2008 with a RRP of 12.99.

"A superb script by Guy Gallo, exquisite photography, and the unparalleled performance by Finney" — TV Guide

"There will be few unmoved by Finney's towering performance" — Variety

"Like the fascinating volcano shrouded with clouds that serves as a backdrop in Under The Volcano, there is no warning of a sudden eruption as Albert Finney portrays Firmin with astonishing ease alongside the brilliant foil of Jacqueline Bisset's long-suffering Yvonne" — MotorBar