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Martha Travis is a medium who makes contact with spirits "on the other side" and connects them with their loved ones still alive, in public performances. Trouble begins when she gives a message to Mary Kuron from her husband, Tom. But Tom isn't dead... yet. And Martha not only knows he will die, she also knows who killed him. And the murderer knows she knows... Written by
Yuval Kfir <yuval.kfir@Indigo.co.il>
There's definitely gold at the end of this rainbow
A traveling medium who "performs" in front of large audiences, Martha Travis relays messages from deceased loved ones to their relatives in attendance. Having pushed her into this way of life, her alcoholic father is more than happy to be making (and blowing) the money her shows bring about. One night, however, Martha receives a message from a man who's wife claims he isn't dead. He soon is though, killed just the way Martha had envisioned. Word spreads, and soon skeptical reporter Gary Wallace is on her trail, as is the hit-man responsible for the killing.
Black Rainbow is a grimy, slow-burning little southern Gothic. Directed by Mike Hodges, the film is equal parts horror yarn, crime thriller and chastising of fake mediums. Before she begins foretelling deaths, we never are clearly sure if Martha's gift is all an act. Whether it is or not, the image she uses to describe her connection to the afterlife, that of a rainbow, is about to become very blackened indeed. Low key and mysterious, the film is laced with atmosphere that, while often dreary, in reality is quite hypnotic.
In a film like this, the characters have to be well-drawn. These are believable, broken people. As Martha, Rosanna Arquette is intensely ethereal. I don't think she's ever looked more stunning, and likewise, I don't think she's ever given a better performance than the one delivered here. She vividly conveys the essence of the character, a woman who turns to sporadic bouts of nymphomania for her only form of gratification. Emotionally worn and hardened by the existence that's been forced on her, Martha lives an empty life giving hope to others while keeping none for herself. Jason Robards plays her father, a louse of a man using his daughter as a cash cow while deriding her every step of the way. Tom Hulce is the cocky reporter, and I recognized the mechanic from The Night Flier as Ted Silas.
At one point in the film, Martha is branded a witch due to one of her predictions. The same woman was more than happy to take part in her showings when they were reassuring, but the moment she foresees something bad, the woman does a 180 and puts her down. Ah, good ol' human nature! This leads to Arquette tearing into her final audience with a speech about the affirmation of their own lives through the afterlife. Terrific stuff.
Hodges peppers his film with many themes, a key one clearly being the human need for assurance. Under his direction, everything comes together beautifully. One scene is a real stunner, as we bear witness to the force of an unseen explosion. I didn't realize what I was seeing at first, but once it became clear, I had to go back and watch the scene again. A lovely example of creativity through subtlety. Really, despite the run down locations, despite the macabre nature of the proceedings, the entire film has an underlying beauty radiating throughout it. It's a delicate balance, but one that's fully achieved.
Wrapping up with an ambiguous ending, the film concludes on a fitting note. This was a great discovery. Never talked about, but utterly satisfying, anyone looking for a real sleeper need look no further. Wonderful film.
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