The Foreigner

The town square at night in a high-angle shot that cranes down as a horse-drawn carriage passes from right to left in the middle background. The two men converse, Seagal walks away, the other man draws a pistol, Seagal half-turns and fires from under his left elbow, the man falls dead. Another carriage passes from left to right as the camera rises to its original position.

A brief but very elegant scene in a film excoriated for its incomprehensibility by critics who for once (a video release) did not write for the national press or city newspapers, nor appear on national television doing so.

There is a political side of this film, as I understand it, but none in the criticisms. Oblowitz pays homage to Ronin, and in this regard two points are to be made. First, beyond a certain point in his career, Frankenheimer ceased to be understood, and was greatly blamed for it. The common complaint was not that his films were like “difficult music heard for the first time,” but that he was incompetent, flatly. This happens to directors often enough to be considered as something of an occupational hazard, merely.

Secondly, Ronin suggested an abstract view of revolutionism that made for a beautiful analysis indeed before the strong identity with Van Gogh became evident. In the same way, The Foreigner may have another reading than the one that presents itself at a glance, but it may not be time wasted to regard it in that way.

The “foreigner” or deep-cover operative is asked to carry a package from France to Germany, pertaining to an unusual air crash. The suggestion is that this symbolizes or expresses a second fall of France into the European Union, and there is a sustained metaphor along these lines throughout. The final scene between Dunoir and Seagal, in which the Frenchman smashes a chair to attack the American with the bits, is comical in its way as the entire film is when looked at from its Polish perspective a half-century after World War Two.

Europeans may have a different view of this, but for Americans the European Union is simply a bill of goods they were sold long since, it has not the “dramatic value” they would ascribe to points of controversy. No criticism of the plot is intended where its critics assert there is none.

A late scene in a Norwegian farmhouse deliberately evokes Polanski’s Macbeth, but also Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain and Renoir’s La Grande illusion, all at once, oddly (farmhouse, occupants, adversaries).

The assault on a German palace is a remarkably eloquent piece of filmmaking, with some perhaps rather silly stylizations in the recent American mode encountering the shocked wonderment of some very old European sculpture. Not that European matters are old hat, nor that Americans were born yesterday, necessarily.

The title fits the reading by characteristically offering at one remove an idea of nationality abolished, as it were.