‘There was once a castle, huge and silent. It held a secret inside, something terrifying…’ Scholars of classical music will know the term Divertimento; you might substitute the terms diversion or amusement, or even use the terms that Graham Greene used for some of his lighter works; ‘an entertainment’. And that’s surely what this unusual, but highly impressive film is; from writer and director Keyvan Sheikhalishahi, this is a tricky, glamorous, rather ingenious film that only lasts a tantalising thirty minutes, but has wowed festival audiences and surely marks the genesis of an impressive start to his career.
Born in France, Sheikhalishahi had made a couple of shorts, Nox and Vesper, but this expanded film marks a clear step up; it’s shot in an 18th century French castle near Paris and aspires to the sumptuous, Rolls Royce-look of a James Bond film, right down to the immaculately tuxedo-ed hero. Played by one of the actors featured in the Twilight franchise, Kellan Lutz, we start with Jonas Olsen, who we first see in a car being driven towards some mysterious game playing in a venerable castle; he stops to pick up a woman Cathy (Torrey DeVitto) who is lying by the side of the road. The game they play is, initially, chess, and the stakes seem high; all manner of glitterati are assembled to watch. But there’s also a second story in a second timeline, involving Olsen returning to the same location at a later date; what has transpired between his two visits is the question, and the answer has explosive punch is the old-school Tales of the Unexpected way.
A quick swatch at the cast list reveals names like Ola Rapace (‘Skyfall’) and Götz Otto (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’); you don’t have to be a detective to figure out that Divertimento feels and plays like an audition to make a James Bond film, and to that extent, it’s a pretty good stab at the kind of film-making that’s far beyond the grasp of most film-makers. Sheikhalishahi really pulls off the high-end look required, but also puts a modern layer of puzzle box doubt about the hero that’s more in the style of Christopher Nolan, and that’s what makes this less of a pastiche than an accomplished thriller in its own right.
Divertimento has been making waves on the festival circuit, and is screening later this year at the French James Bond Club; there’s a link to that event here . Since everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Nolan has clearly aspired to take Bond in a new direction, this feels like a bold and ballsy move by Sheikhalishahi, who clearly wants to mix with the best. But with little sign as yet of the next 007 movie, or what direction it’ll take, this is an agreeable diversion for Bond fans, or just admirers of stylish cinema.