Note: there was no nudity on Weeds this week.
The Hessen Affair
Hessen takes place in 1945-46, as the war in Europe is being replaced by
the Allied occupation. A group of corrupt
American officers stumbles upon a king's ransom in German jewels. They intend
to steal it, ship it to the States, and split the proceeds, but they soon
start scheming and conniving against each other until the game degenerates
into a bit of "last man standing" back in the States when the remaining
players compete against one another to unload the jewels on a big-shot
Some of the alliances between the schemers are kept a secret from the
audience, and the missing information renders what we can see somewhat
misleading. In the background, saxophones wail, and the main character
narrates with a 1940s tough guy voice. In the end, of course, all the curtains
are parted and the secrets revealed.
I'm sure you're already guessed that Hessen is an attempt to recreate the
atmosphere of 1940s noir movies. The film is a Belgian/Canadian co-production and was filmed in - surprise!
- Belgium and Canada, with the former standing in for Germany and the latter
playing the part of New York. At some 105 minutes, and with very little action
- no chases, no fights, etc - the optimal pacing for this film required the director and
editor to be a little slicker than they actually were. This was the first
feature film directed by Paul Bruels, and it showed. There were many
opportunities to create dramatic tension as some characters faced deadlines or
surprises and others sped to places where their arrival could have
significantly altered the plans of the characters we are meant to like. Those
situations could have and should have been real nail-biters, but the haphazard
editing managed to drain away most of the dramatic tension.
The film has other problems as well. As the two central characters, both
officers in the American army, Billy Zane seems like far too much of a latter
day hipster to be a 1940s Army colonel, and Lyne Renee doesn't sound like an
American at all, probably because she isn't. She's Flemish - real name Line
Van Wambeke. Gotta hire local. On the other hand, Lynne Renee is spectacularly
beautiful, whatever her real name may be, although her beauty is in the cold,
distant Jolie style.
What Hessen lacks in thrills and action, it makes up in elegance,
atmosphere, mystery, sexiness, and plot twists. The rookie director was helped
by the fact that one of the authors is an old Hollywood hand, Nicholas Meyer,
who wrote The Seven Percent Solution (Oscar nod) and several of the original
Star Trek films - all the even-numbered ones, which were the good
ones. Meyer used to be a pretty fair director as well (The Wrath of Khan;
Time After Time), and brought a lot of savvy to the project. The script was
even smart enough to insert a line about how the Lyne Renee character was born
in Belgium and moved to America, thus rationalizing her slight accent! And as
for Billy Zane - well, he may not seem like a wartime colonel, but he has a
fair measure of swagger and charisma, and that helped him bluff his way
through the credibility problems.
The bottom line is that I was aware of the negatives but mostly overlooked them
because I enjoyed The Hessen Affair in the moment. I was absorbed in the plot,
and never considered reaching for the remote. It's an entertaining little
guilty pleasure, and right on the top shelf by straight-to-DVD standards.
And there's some decent nudity as well:
luscious Lyne Renee
Vanessa Flammez, in a non-speaking part as a German hooker.