Monday, August 22, 2011
I'll start this review off like any other and be perfectly honest with you: This film is probably one of the most honest and brutal depictions of love/obsession ever committed to celluloid. It is in NO way light hearted viewing. You want bullshit light hearted "it'll all work out in the end" fare, go someplace else. This is no consumer pip consumer pap movie to make you feel good, unless of course you are an incredibly fucked up individual and in that case stay well away from me please.
See trailer below:
The story begins with an ambulance rushing a young girl to the hospital who has apparently overdosed. As the backwards/forwards story unfurls ever so slowly and purposefully (the editing in this film is beyond superb by the way) we find out that as in all things there is far more to something than ever meets the eye. The plot revolves around the affair between teacher/lecturing psychiatrist Alex (Art Garfunkel) and a worldly young American girl named Milena (Theresa Russell). Innocent flirting quickly becomes a full on love affair from apartments in Vienna to the bazaars of Morocco and back. As the strange relationship of white lies that never really mattered and the obsessions that overshadow them flash before us, we see scenes of love making, scenes of violent outbursts and actions, and scenes of deceit. Milena's emergency room operation continually flashes before us and later is taken over by the subsequent police investigation (the lead inspector of which is played by Harvey Keitel) which dredges their past even further and ends with a rather mentally shattering climax. Speaking of the supporting cast, Denholm Elliot (veteran British actor who many of you will recognize as Marcus from the Indiana Jones films) has a wonderfully acted yet brief role as Milena's estranged husband.
From interviews included on this excellent Criterion Collection entry one learns that this film has had a bit of trouble over the years. It was not a smashing success (due to its subject matter no doubt) upon release and was given poor reviews by a number of writers. In the US at least, there appears to be no NTSC VHS release either. If there is, I've not come across one that wasn't PAL. This is likely due to the expense of licensing the soundtrack which features the like of Tom Waits and The Who. Easily done around 1980 when the film was in production sure, but try jumping through all the same hoops again to do more permanent vhs editions. This is why this film has been relatively unavailable here in the states until the kind folks at Janus films decided to do right by us movie lovers and give it the treatment it so sorely deserves.
I'll be perfectly honest, this is a REALLY difficult film to review without simply telling you everything that happens. If you've ever been in a truly serious relationship however I'm sure you can guess with a high degree of accuracy as to the turn of events. The above paragraph regarding the story is all I can really say because I want each and every one of you reading this to at least TRY to watch it even once. I think anyone who has ever truly loved someone will identify with this film even on a cursory level.
The acting is extremely natural between Garfunkel and Russell, as Nicholas Roeg allowed for quite a bit of improv and captured moments you could otherwise never script. The non linear (but simultaneously linear) editing lends a frenetic pace to the proceedings as well (I've said it earlier in the review yes, but cannot stress this point enough). Nicholas Roeg compared the way it was edited to the way people remember a relationship, as we never remember it in sequence but rather particular moments and off of that smaller things- both good and bad (I highly paraphrased that!).
Here's the only clip I could find on youtube to whet your appetite further, it has French subtitles so ignore them and watch the clip instead. The acting and camera work are exceptional in this scene, as they are in every scene in the film. Theresa Russell's acting ability in particular is incredible as she was only 22 or 23 at the time of filming and expresses incredible range and depth here.
Romantic/sexual obsession is a difficult and sometimes impossible circle to break, and only one other film I have seen portrays it so well (keep an eye out for a review of said film- Andrzej Zulawski's Possession from 1981 coming soon). I can only hope this review has done the film adequate justice without giving anything away. This is an uncompromising film for uncompromising people. There really isn't much more I can say beyond that.