Patrick Malahide played George Bucsan, an anxious, somewhat cowardly book reviewer (he describes himself as a “bookworm employed by a newspaper”), in the 1995 film Two Deaths. It is a very dark, complex film set during an annual gathering of old friends. This night, their 19th year, they gather in the large house of Dr. Daniel Pavenic (Michael Gambon).
Set in Eastern Europe, a revolution is blazing outside. They are constantly interrupted by wounded soldiers requiring the doctor’s help. Against this intense backdrop, the men discover each other’s dark secrets, with Dr. Pavenic’s being the most depraved. It is a complex story, so I’ll essentially focus on Bucsan’s POV.
The Guests Arrive
George Bucsan first appears as he is being driven to the party. As he goes through the street, there is gun fire and explosions. Eventually he arrives at Pavenic’s home and is let in by a somber but elegant housekeeper, Ana Puscasu (Sonia Braga). She tells him to make himself a drink. Eventually two other friends appear: Carl Dalakis (Ion Caramitru) and Marius Vernescu (Nickolas Grace).
They speculate that Pavenic must be corrupt because of his beautiful house. “I’ve never known a man with more rumors about him than Pavenic,” muses George, “only half of them are true.” As they talk, Ana is upstairs gently cleaning what appears to be an invalided man.
As the men catch up on their lives, we learn that George has been a widower for ten years. Marius, especially besotted with Pavenic’s lifestyle, grabs a photo of a beautiful young woman from the mantle, showing it to George who declares her “stunning.” Marius and Carl speculate on who she might be, unaware of the resemblance she has to Ana the housekeeper who is walking in and out of the room.
Their assumptions are unpleasant. Marius thinks she might be a girl who was pregnant with Pavenic’s child and died during an abortion he performed. Carl thinks she might be Pavenic’s daughter who (not knowing he was her father) tried to seduce him. As they speculate, George appears extremely tense and ill-at-ease. It is clear he doesn’t like these sorts of conversations about Pavenic.
Secrets Begin to Be Revealed
Eventually Pavenic comes downstairs and greets his guests. He informs them that most of the guests will not be arriving because of the revolution. This more intimate gathering means that there will be plenty of opportunities for darker personal revelations. They ask Pavenic about the woman in the photograph, and he happily tells them it is of his housekeeper Ana Puscasu, the woman he “chose to destroy”.
There is knocking at the door and a wounded woman is dragged in by soldiers. Pavenic immediately attends to her, as George is sent for hot water. He dashes to the kitchen, rather haplessly but wanting to help, and asks Ana. As he leaves, the camera focuses on Ana holding a gun behind her back.
Back at dinner they again ask George about his deceased wife. He reveals that she died from a skiing accident. “They brought her down on a sledge; she was still alive, but her neck was broken. She died soon after.” He then adds, “If she had lived,
she’d have been paralyzed for life.” As he tells his story, the focus shifts to Pavenic who appears oddly amused.
Pavenic tells them more about Ana. He first saw her at a wedding where he literally groped her, but she said nothing and didn’t even react. After that point he was obsessed and determined to have her. She wanted nothing to do with him and, besides, she was already engaged to a handsome, young, motorcycle riding man named Roberto (Karl Tessler). George suggests that Pavenic could have just forgotten about her and moved on. Pavenic rather acidly says that is probably what George would have done.
Later, Carl decides he wants to tell George, who writes for a newspaper, a story that he might like. It is set before Perestroika and is about a writer who is imprisoned for political crimes. In the next cell is a Yugoslav. The Yugoslav agrees to teach the writer Serbo-Croatian by giving him ten new words each day which the writer marks on the wall with a piece of chalk. He tells the writer all about Belgrade, describing it so beautifully. Eventually, the Yugoslav dies, and the writer begins writing poems in Serbo-Croatian, and they are the best work of his life. After he is released, he visits Belgrade, but it looks nothing like he expected. He tries speaking to people and showing them his poems, but no one understands. It turns out that the Yugoslav made the whole thing up and the poems were written in an invented language.
Carl says the story is true, but neither Marius nor George seemed to like it, and they certainly don’t believe it. “And what makes you think I’d be interested,” asks George. “I thought you might be,” is Carl’s only response.
They See Roberto
As the men go back to the next course, they again ask about how Pavenic destroyed Ana. Pavenic demonstrates his power over Ana by stripping her topless as the men watch horrified. Actually, George doesn’t even watch. He is so distressed and horrified he covers his eyes with his hands. They tell Pavenic to stop. Eventually he lets her go and leaves as she stares at him with smug defiance.
Later Pavenic takes the men upstairs and shows them the invalid. He is Roberto, Ana’s fiancé. He was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, adding some depth to George’s comment about his wife being better dead than paralyzed. He explains that Ana agreed to be his housekeeper/sexual slave as long as they could care for Roberto.
Cinca Arrives and Leaves
Another guest finally arrives, albeit briefly. He is Cinca (John Shrapnel), a high ranking military official who is also a political torturer and seems to be an overall monster. He tells them how it takes the Sun’s light eight minutes to reach Earth. So, if the Sun blinked out, the people on Earth would still have eight minutes of light before certain death.
George tells Cinca he’s told him that fact before. Years ago when George was engaged to his wife, they were in a shop as she was trying to choose between two hats. Cinca walked in and bought both hats for her. He then took them to a club which had a very weird floor show: A man in red thong was whipping a nude woman as Arabic music played. I think that might be the warm-up act to The Aristocrats. 😉 George obviously wasn’t having a good time at the club, and that was when Cinca told them about the sun.
Cinca, who is *really* weird, has to leave (thank goodness), but not before saying, “You know, in spite of the bellies, and the balding, and the graying heads, I think we still look like the children we used to be. Huh?” The camera helpfully focuses on poor George with the balding comment. How charming. At least he managed to avoid having a belly, guys. It also seems like Cinca is focusing mostly on George with the “children we used to be” comment. Fortunately, he then leaves. “He’s quite cheerful for a torturer,” says Pavenic. That was pretty funny. 🙂 Not so funny is the revelation that Pavenic, who despite his twisted obsession with Ana seems to be a very caring doctor, has treated some of Cinca’s victims.
More chaos ensues as an army captain forces his way into the house, claiming to have heard shots come from upstairs. Pavenic argues with him and is struck across the face with the captain’s gun. Another officer arrives and recognizes George, giving Pavenic more wounded soldiers to care for.
The guests go back indoors and find a huge cake. It is decorated with marzipan figurines of them. George seems especially delighted with them. It is nice to see him look so happy, even though his random bald guy figurine doesn’t quite do him justice. 😉 They are all offered a slice of cake but poor George can’t have any because he is diabetic. Awww…and apparently he adores cake too.
George’s Secret is Revealed
As they find out more about Pavenic and Ana, George grows increasingly disgusted about Pavenic’s obsession. Carl asks if he does not think of his dead wife obsessively. “I got over it. Obsession disrupts people’s lives.” As he gently strokes an art nouveau statue, George says that grief fades and that it is over now. They ask where she was buried and George says he buried her in the mountains near where she fell in a pretty cemetery. “I take her flowers once a year.” Pavenic enters the room and asks how she died. George: “She fell. Her head hit a tree trunk. She lived in a coma for three days, but the doctors turned off the switches.”
Pavenic then strikes a big blow. “Why are you lying Bucsan?” Pavenic says that both he and Bucsan know she is still alive. Pavenic even saw her six months ago and she asked about George. “I told her you were well, but some of your friends worry about you.” George breaks down in grief and humilation. “She’s dead to me. Dead for years. Dead!” Then he storms off. That was a really well-done scene. Mr. Malahide shows George’s brittleness and humiliation with an amazing elegance. His hand gestures while speaking those last words are beautiful and graceful and add immensely to the scene.
He shuts himself in a bathroom and in the mirror he begins to recall what really happened with his wife. They were at a party. Back in real time George is called out by Carl, and they sit outside on the balcony. George reveals that during the fateful party, he drank too much and fell asleep. When he woke up he went to look for his wife. When he finally found her, she was getting dressed after having had sex with none other than a young Pavenic (played by Naill Refoy but dubbed over with Michael Gambon’s voice…something I must say I found weird). She was already telling Pavenic that they’d made a mistake. Pavenic made a comment about George’s love making skills and she said “he’ll get better.” George is standing outside the whole time, breathing on his inhaler, before storming off.
It is an upsetting scene, but Mr. Malahide is wonderful in it. His expressions while he looks for his wife are really good as you can see he really does not like his surroundings. It makes me wonder if Bucsan isn’t a bit of a Casaubon, someone who would just much rather be surrounded by his books. The depravity, as he sees it, of people really seems to upset him. Add to that his wife’s betrayal and you can see why he is so brittle.
He tells Carl that went home first and when his wife arrived he hit her. “She didn’t cry…I did.” Then he ordered her out of the house. Carl says, “But you loved her.” “I didn’t kill her!” Crying, he says he is only sorry he didn’t beat her. Carl still seems confused and asks if they never talked about it. George says that she tried to visit him many times, but he refused. Eventually she left the city and to him she was dead. He began to tell everyone she was dead. “I thought we were happy.”
Carl then says he always knew his wife wasn’t dead, but that he didn’t care. He said that his wife had an affair with Pavenic (among others) too. But, Carl forgave her. He always forgave her. Eventually she did leave with Carl begging her to stay.
Suddenly there are more explosions and gunfire and they look over the balcony. They see Cinco beating a man who then suddenly shoots him. Cinco is now dead.
They go in to tell everyone about Cinco. Pavenic doesn’t seem too fussed and just asks Bucsan why he deserted his wife. George retaliates by saying, “No you tell me something. Did Ana Puscasu ever love you?” They have a little back-and-forth which reminds me very much of Marlow and Binney from The Singing Detective. Pavenic says he loves her. George: “Ridiculous. It’s slavery, not freewill. You exploit her; you abuse her. You call it free will. It’s pathetic.” Pavenic tells them about her restrictions. She will not have his children, and he cannot touch her in Roberto’s room. He couldn’t stand hearing her read to Roberto, knowing she only cared for him. One day he raped her outside Roberto’s room. He tries to justify his actions saying he had to “defeat” her.
George has clearly noticed her defiance and strength of character. “You really think that you defeated her?” I love the way he hits the word “her.” Pavenic, however, doesn’t love it at all. “Why did you desert your wife?” They start arguing again and then Pavenic asks George if he knows he has a son. George says that Pavenic claims the boy as his own bastard, but Pavenic says the child is not his. The timing is all wrong, plus, “I have seen him. He walks like you; he talks like you. He has your eyes.” He then tells George that she has married a chemist. He tells George he could have a family and contentment, if he had just forgiven her.
George Talks to Roberto and Ana
Eventually George steals upstairs into Roberto’s room. He begins to speak to the paralyzed man who appears to completely understand what he is saying. When he asks Roberto to blink, he does so. George holds a candle over him. He tells Roberto that Pavenic ruined his life also. He then brutally tells him about all the terrible things Pavenic does to Ana as Roberto’s eyes well up with tears. “Doesn’t that make you want to kill him? Hmmm? He loves her.” Then, almost inexplicably, he pours some of the hot candle wax on Roberto’s arm. There is no reaction. George, horrified at what he has done, tells Roberto he is so sorry and leaves the room.
George runs to the kitchen and finds Ana’s gun. He hands it to her as he asks her if she wants revenge against Pavenic. She answers, “Ask him about his son.” George enters the main room again with the guests. He asks for a cigarette, but he has given up smoking so it just makes him uncomfortable, and he gets rid of it. He tells Pavenic he spoke with Ana. “She told me to ask you about your son.” Pavenic reveals that he performed an abortion on Ana. He had wanted to keep and raise the child, but she said only if he raised him on his own and let her and Roberto leave. He wouldn’t agree to that because he wanted her more.
Accusation and Resolution
George very strongly suggests that the reason Roberto is paralyzed is because Pavenic caused the accident in the first place. Pavenic admits that he did, but Ana says he is a liar. She goes upstairs with her gun to Roberto and caresses him. Then the soldiers return saying this time they saw shots from the balcony. Ana comes back downstairs brandishing her gun and runs into Pavenic’s arms. The captain shoots both of them. It is then revealed she shot Roberto also.
Later, George’s soldier friend comes inside and says the fighting has quieted down for the night. He has an armored vehicle waiting to take the three men home. Before he leaves, George pockets the marzipan figurine of Pavenic (to sell on Ebay, I suppose) and, despite being diabetic, grabs a piece of cake and shoves it in his mouth. I think he has grown stronger and bolder that night after seeing the defiant Ana end the bargain and cause Pavenic’s death. It seems to bode well for his future at least.
It is a very intriguing film and is certainly well made. However, I found it very, very bleak and disturbing. The George Bucsan character is very good though. He seems like a coward, but I think he is just more anxious and tortured than cowardly. He always remains very elegant, almost ethereal, no matter what is going on. Even when he is tense and frustrated, he never loses the elegance.