The escapades of a writer seeking to chase the ghosts of his past and reconnect with a lover from long ago who still haunts him could easily sound like a rather self-indulgent cinematic experience, couldn’t it? The correct answer is yes, and yet Return to Montauk, the new film from Academy Award-winning director Volker Schlöndorff, offers a type of faltering, gentle beauty.
The always reliable and relatable Stellan Skarsgård is Max Zorn (who is now forever to confuse IMDb users looking for the James Bond villain Max Zorin), a Berlin-based writer who arrives in New York on a book tour. He used to live there, and his wife Clara (an excellent Susanne Wolff) is already in the city for a work project. Max unhesitantly takes the opportunity of geographic convenience to track down his former lover Rebecca (Nina Hoss), with whom he had a grand, somewhat torturous romance when they both lived in New York many years earlier.
Max could easily be dismissed as an exercise in intellectualised smugness, and much of the movie hangs on whether or not the audience believes his quest has some sort of purpose other than abject selfishness. There is no real moralising over the fact that the end goal of Max’s reconnection with Rebecca could amount to adultery, and this is a stimulating approach. The film is buoyed by excellent performances, since this material could easily lurch towards TV movie territory in less-assured hands.
Schlöndorff shoots his New York scenes in a refreshing manner, making the city seem familiar and disorienting at the same time. Loosely inspired by the 1975 novella Montauk by the late writer Max Frisch (a friend of Schlöndorff), this literary story of a writer who applies his imagination to the memories of the past (and also to a potential new future) is not an important film, but has a wonderful, occasionally melancholy glow.
Rückkehr nach Montauk (Return to Montauk) does not have a UK release date yet.
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