Murder, mystery and magnificent mustaches

Published 12:19 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

On the heels of last week’s festival, we return to our feature film programming with a film perfect for the Halloween season. This frightening fall film is Kenneth Branaugh’s newest adaptation of an Agatha Christie work, “A Haunting in Venice.” 

This film is Branaugh’s third adaptation of Christie’s writing, preceded on the silver screen by “A Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) and “Death on the Nile” (2022), both of which premiered to high praise from both audiences and critics alike. Branaugh, while directing these films, also assumed the lead role in each as the famously shrewd gentleman detective, Hercule Poirot. 

“A Haunting in Venice” finds Poirot in self-imposed retirement, having chosen a quiet life in Venice, hoping to be removed from the anxieties of his wartime past and his cases. Set in 1947 in the aftermath of World War II, many people, like Poirot, find themselves far from their homes, scattered by various wartime occupations, and beset by traumas from the war. While Poirot has come to Venice in search of refuge from his work, the arrival of a famed mystery writer on his doorstep pulls him back into the world of mysteries and murders. 

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The brilliant Belgian detective is convinced to aid this author, Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), in the unmasking of an alleged charlatan claiming to be a medium, Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). A seance is set to take place with a diverse group of interconnected individuals, all with their own secrets, including Poirot, newly added to the guest list. This setup soon proves itself a return to the familiar for Poirot, as murder soon follows.

This film, like its predecessors, uses a reliable formula for fun and cathartic thrills, and Brannaugh has perfected its application of said formula. A large ensemble cast provides many famous faces amongst the suspects and many subsequent moments for their interrelated chemistry. The murder mystery structure will always create a compelling and engrossing narrative, as we are pulled in by the question of the unknown while simultaneously comforted by the guarantee of eventual closure. 

Branaugh, in his portrayal of Poirot, has captured an aloof and cerebral man with a reserved charm and gravity that adds a satisfying weight to the character’s quirks and accent, which could so easily render him comedic. In setting the tone of these films, he has been able to walk that wonderfully nuanced line that Christie herself did so well: portraying the macabre, without ever becoming indulgent. 

This film will run for two weeks, from this Wednesday October 11th through Sunday, October 22nd, and lead into our Film Society pairing for the last week of the month, “Wait Until Dark” (1967) and “The Shining” (1980).

We hope you will join us in unraveling the mystery and enjoy some seasonal thrills and chills in “A Haunting in Venice!”