Mordecai Richler was one of Canada's most beloved novelists. He is best known in the USA as the author of the novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which was made into a movie in 1974 starring Richard Dreyfuss.
His last novel, Barney's Version, is the basis for a new film which is being released in January. It played a limited week-long engagement earlier this month in New York and Los Angeles, probably to qualify for the Oscar nominations.
The role of Barney is played by Paul Giamatti, and the film also stars Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, and Rosamund Pike.
As Charles McGrath reported in The New York Times last month,
For some unaccountable reason Richler, who died in 2001, was immensely popular in Italy, where was last novel, “Barney’s Version,”was a best seller. And in his native Canada he was a national institution, cherished because of the way he indiscriminately poked fun at Canadians in general, but especially the Jews, the French separatists and the Anglophile nationalists, who were locked in mutual antagonism.
The title character, Barney Panofsky, is in some ways an exaggeration of Richler himself: rumpled, opinionated, cigar puffing, Scotch sipping. And into the book, which is written in the first person, he poured all his passions and preoccupations: hockey, literature, Montreal bars, Canadian politics.
The novel has not one but two narrative spines. A murder mystery, involving the suspicious disappearance of Barney’s best friend, Boogie Moscovitch, is interwoven with a history of Barney’s three marriages: to a Bohemian painter in Paris, to a screeching Jewish princess from Montreal and to an almost idealized shiksa whom he falls in love with at his wedding to Wife No. 2. (Something like this really did happen to Richler himself.)
The script, by Michael Konyves, inevitably compresses some parts of the novel and omits others, but it also expands on the text. His version of Barney’s second wedding — at which Barney’s father, Izzy, a retired Montreal cop, gets drunk and tells dirty stories to the rabbi’s wife — is longer and more elaborate than the original. And he fleshes out the character of Barney’s third wife, Miriam, who in the book is an almost ethereal, disembodied presence, so that she, or Barney’s affection for her, becomes the fulcrum of the whole story.Early reviews have been positive, so this is one you might want to see in January, or wait for its DVD release and availability on Netflix. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer!