Embracing the Melodrama Part III #3: More (dir by Barbet Schroeder)

More is such a film of the 60s that you can almost get a contact high from watching it.

It’s not just that the film was released in 1969.  After all, there were a lot of films released in 1969 that don’t, in any way, feel like they belong in the 60s.  (Just consider two of 1969’s Best Picture nominees, Anne of the Thousand Days and Hello, Dolly.)  However, More is a film that seems to include every single thing that we think of when we think about the late 60s.

Drugs?  Check.

Hitchhiking?  Check.

Petty crime?  Check.

Ennui?  Check.

Weirdly out-of-place political bullshit?  Check.

A fatalistic ending that suggests that nothing really matters?  Check and double check.

More tells the story of a young German named Stefan (Klaus Grunberg).  Stefan has just wrapped up his mathematics studies and now, he’s intent on exploring Europe and experiencing life!  The first time we see Stefan, he’s hitchhiking and not having much luck.  No one really wants to pick up Stefan and I really can’t blame them.  Stefan is an incredibly boring character and Grunberg gives a remarkably dull performance in the lead role.  Unfortunately, Stefan also narrates his story.  I usually don’t like narrators in general but they especially get on my nerves whenever they appear in a movie that was made between 1966 and 1970.

Anyway, Stefan finally finds himself in Paris.  He befriends Charlie (Michel Chanderil), who is a petty thief and who takes the naive Stefan under his wing.  The movie picks up a bit whenever Charlie is on screen, largely because Chanderil has more screen presence than Grunberg.  As I watched Charlie teach Stefan how to steal, I found myself wishing that the whole film could have been about Charlie.

But no.  We’re stuck with boring old Stefan.  Stefan eventually meets an American girl named Estelle (Mismy Farmer).  Now, if Stefan was a fan of Godard, he would undoubtedly have seen Breathless and he would know better than to run off with an American girl.  But, because Stefan is a dullard, he instead decides that he loves Estelle.  When Estelle heads off for Ibiza, Stefan follows.

In Ibiza, Estelle is living with an enigmatic German named Dr. Wolf (Heinz Engelmann).  Dr. Wolf is a former (and, it’s implied, current) Nazi.  Stefan wins her away from Dr. Wolf.  Stefan thinks that he’s rescuing her but Estelle really doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.  Estelle introduces Stefan to the world of drugs and Stefan is soon hooked on heroin.

And it just goes on from there.

More probably could have probably been a really good film if Stefan wasn’t such a dull protagonist or if Grunberg had been in the least bit compelling in the lead role.  From the minute I first saw him hitchhiking, my reaction was, “I do not care about this person” and that was pretty much the way I felt throughout the entire film.

The film does have its good points.  The cinematographer was Nestor Almendros so Ibiza looks amazing and Pink Floyd provides an appropriately moody score.  Mimsy Farmer, an American actress who later appeared in some of the best gialli to come out of Italy, is perfectly cast as the self-centered and casually destructive Estelle.  But all the good points can’t make up for the film’s slow pace and Grunberg’s charisma-free performance.

More is probably best viewed as a cultural artifact.  I’m a history nerd and I’m always fascinated by films like More that, regardless of their overall quality, are such obvious works of their time.  More may reek of stale weed but watching it is definitely a chance to experience the 60s.