It should be easy to dislike Morlang. Director Tiejbbo Penning has taken a true story, that of a man in Holland who weasels out of a suicide pact with his wife, and chopped it into small pieces. He then rearranges them, giving us the ending first and last and generally wrecking havoc with the story structure. The idea screams "amateur;" the easiest way to make up for a weak story is to make it harder to follow through editing rather than improving the structure on the page.
Yet, when done right, the concept can make for compelling cinema – and with the outstanding work of lead actor Paul Freeman and the fascinating characters, Penning found a way to make it work.
Freeman plays the title character, Julius Morlang, an aging but successful artist. He lives in an Irish castle with his new wife, Ann (Susan Lynch), and they seem to have a beautiful relationship. But as Julius starts to get strange letters and phone messages, he starts to seemingly fall apart. Who is sending the messages, and what do they have to do with Julius' deceased first wife, Ellen (Diana Kent)?
Morlang is a film based solely on withholding information from the audience. Everything that happens in the present-day is because of one horrific event in the past. The audience is not clued in until the very end. That puts a lot of pressure on that one event; if the audience finds it insignificant, then the entire film has been for naught.
But Penning's big event makes the 85 prior minutes worthwhile in every way. It pays off all the storylines while changing everything we know about the main character. It is the logical conclusion and surprising, a difficult combination to properly pull off.
Making that trick easier is outstanding work by Freeman, a British character actor best known as Dr. Rene Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It would be so easy for an actor with this type of role to spend the film "showing" his history in how he acts, giving away the twist. Instead of judging his character, Freeman manages to take Julius' side, giving his performance even more strength.
(NOTE: Morlang is not rated by the MPAA, but it is not suitable for children. There is full frontal nudity, bad language and strong sexual content.)
As is standard on Film Movement releases, the video presentation of Morlang is anamorphic widescreen. The video quality is great, even when the film switches to its handheld video scenes. There's no visible grain, no edge enhancement and a deep color palate.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 track does thankless work for Morlang; in no way spectacular, but all that is necessary for such a dialogue-heavy film. There is a noticeable lack of movement across the soundscape, with most of the sound evenly distributed across the two front speakers, never mind the source of said sound on the screen.
Included on the disc is a full-length commentary track with Penning and Freeman. It is not only very informative, but fun at times as well – the two both clearly care deeply for the movie and the love for the film really comes through.
The short film selection for this disc is another Penning piece, The Oath, which tells the true story of a prisoner who tried to kill himself the night before his execution. It is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
There are short biographies included for the cast and crew as well as trailers for Morlang, Marion Bridge, El Bola, Manito and OT: Our Town .
Penning walks a fine line in Morlang between giving the audience a shocking end "twist" and flat-out lying. But it is a line he walks with precision, and his film ends up being a compelling piece of drama.