Is anyone there, and will anyone care?

The Inner Life Of Martin Frost

on September 07, 2007 by John P. McCarthy
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Novelist and sometime filmmaker Paul Auster hopes audiences will be amused by what goes on inside the head of his title character, a writer played by David Thewlis. Despite the scruffy charms of Thewlis, that's not going to happen. Being trapped in Martin Frost's mind, which Auster cracks open using a dull epistemological conceit, isn't fun, and this four-character parable is unlikely to tickle even the most sympathetic literary groupie.

Martin borrows a friend's country house to rest after a three-year slog working on a novel but immediately realizes he can't not write. Instead of relaxing, he begins a short story and vows to stay until it's finished. Awaking on day two, he finds a woman in bed next to him. Claire (Irene Jacob) claims she's the owner's niece and is writing a doctoral thesis in philosophy. Is she real? Her Berkeley tee shirt implies she's a figment of his imagination, assuming it refers to the Irish thinker's Idealism as well as the university.

They fall for each other, and Martin's commitment to his vocation is threatened. He's torn between making art and making love, yet neither path seems very inviting to us. Claire comes off as an irritating muse, and the story-within-a-story amateurish. Things turn silly in part two with the entrance of a local plumber and aspiring author (Michael Imperioli), who has a muse of his own (played by the director's daughter Sophie) and zero talent.

The Inner Life of Martin Frost has greater visual than literary appeal. That's faint praise since it doesn't score cinematically, but the serenely conventional camerawork and Portuguese locale beckons in a way the script doesn't. Exhibiting a mundane (bordering on inane) sense of humor, Auster's movie is more ridiculous than pretentious.

Still, he could've helped neutralize the charge of highfalutin solipsism if he hadn't voiced the narration himself. Better yet, he could've refrained from opining about the writer's life altogether.
Distributor: New Yorker
Cast: David Thewlis, Irene Jacob, Michael Imperioli and Sophie Auster
Director/Screenwriter: Paul Auster
Producers: Paulo Branco, Paul Auster, Yael Melamede and Gerardo Herrero
Genre: Comedy drama
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: September 7, 2007 NY
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