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A good film a nice one to keep you entertained. I must admit that after reading Ian Mc Ewan's book I was really keen on watching the film. However after doing it I was somehow disappointed. Although the story is not badly adapted and the performances and cinematography are good as well I couldn't perceive in any moment the sadomasochistic relationships skilfully described in Mc Ewan's novel that made of it a thrilling story full of suspense and unexpected situations. On the contrary the story seems lighter than it is actually. Anyway the performances and the beautiful landscapes of Venice are some of the elements that make of it an enjoyable film.
McEwan's novel was placed in a not-better-defined hot town by the sea. Director Schrader decides to place the story in a cold and foggy Venice. Surprisingly, this choice sorts its aim, probably thanks to the pendant given by Walken's icing looks and Everett's cold English beauty. So, the atmosphere around the plot is completely different from the novel to the movie, but the perfect morbid reaction is the same. The unstoppable gain of sickness of the book is perfectly intact on screen. Schrader gives probably the best movie-adaptation from one of our time's most witty and wicked writers.
This film established for me conclusively that Paul Schrader was an
aesthetician rather than a thoughtful artist, after other stylish trips
into the lives of drug-dealers, gigolos, etc. Not in the same way that
Michael Mann is, but, well...
For a period in the early nineties I noted that the movies which provided insufficient answers and portrayed unlikeable characters would first p*ss me off, and then draw me back in after a month or so to reinspect it for evidence I'd missed; Plenty, Comfort of Strangers, others.
While ambiguity can be stimulating, this seems to be just a tease. Either the characters in this world are operating according to some undisclosed rule, or some obscure theme links it all. I have what I believe is an accurate thesis about why this numb, vacationing English couple endures the awful Walken and Mirren more than once, but it's facile and barely worth pursuing as a discussion or as a movie.
Beyond the triumvirate (Schrader, MacEwan, Pinter) working overtime to be inscrutable, Rupert Everett fails to bring his A game to this, or engage with anyone; Richardson, the schoolgirls, his inexplicably peevish orders not to scratch. There's also some strange gay intertextuality in Everett's casting, as a straight man who unwittingly becomes the target of another (ostensibly) straight mans attention. Not since Quentin Crisp played Queen Elizabeth will you have been this confused. No, it wasn't well-known at the time that Everett was gay, but Schrader would have known. Perhaps it's a short list of young straight British actors who look terrific unclothed as the script requires here. The deliberately unengaged quality of the couple is not served well by Everett's lack of engagement due to being gay playing straight. This layering conflates the themes and causes really mixed results; readings are muddied almost immediately.
But I'm very aware and appreciative of the beautifully designed camera work; the linking shots, establishing shots, and of course long developed sequences are among the most beautiful pieces of celluloid I've ever seen. Ditto for Badalamenti's ravishing, ominous score.
There are some beautiful, filmic moments in it. Robert loses the cameras attention in the middle of his tiresome story and we go for a trip around a swank bar. At first there are only men (oh, it's gay bar...) then a man applies chap stick, then a mannish woman flirts with a guy (hmmmm... it's not a gay bar), then an isolated red, curly-haired woman is dwelled on. I have no idea what it means and what Schrader was out to achieve but the sequence stays with me in a way the more narrative pieces of the film just sit there. Perhaps in another better movie it would add up to more. Here these moments just seem to fight the narrative.
After twelve years of scouring this movie for meaning, I give up. It's just not satisfying as a story, a parable, etc.. This is a frustrating, zero-steps-forward-two-steps-back endeavor. Together novelist McEwan, screenwriter Pinter and director Schrader crafted an emotional fog of a movie that deliberately posits problematics, but hints at few answers. Colin and Mary's six or seven scenes of idle chatter are badly directed and positively grating, something to be endured rather than enjoyed; consuming the dramatic arc alive. You could mix the scenes up and play them in any order you like and you still couldn't develop a viewers interest.
For deliberate ambiguity played well, just rent Last Year at Marienbad.
If you've ever been to Venice you'll see that it has two moods; the
everyday touristy, grand canal, glassy goods and glassy eyed, singing
gondolier one which is visible on the surface and in every square. And
then there is the more malevolent broody one; with the passages off to
nowhere, the sullen and unknown. This is of course the home of
Carnivale, where masked intentions are hidden from obvious view.
Movies in Venice tend to go with the latter, more sinister feel; from DEATH IN VENICE to DON'T LOOK NOW and this film is no exception, which is no surprise knowing the provenence of the original book, written by Ian McEwan. It tells the story of a couple who've come to Venice to sort out their marriage; to give it one last try. And on their explorations they fortuitously run into Robert who shows them around for their own and his own interest.
The couple is played by the impossibly statuesque Rupert Everett and Joely Richardson (another one of Vanessa Redgrave's daughters.) And just the casting of Christopher Walken should give an inkling of further adventures. Apart from one or two changes, it closely follows the book and ultimately shows that there is an underlying hidden love between the couple that finds difficulty in expressing itself.
The real star is the setting. It's moody, dark, scary, exciting. The sets themselves are rich and opulent; very Arabian night plush. The general feel is languid and louche. Add to that Harold Pinter's script, who can make buying a bus ticket sound ominous and you know you're in for an interesting ride.
The collaboration of Pinter and Shrader did little more than add an interminable quality to a lurid visual style. The lighting is so theatrical as to suggest that this is intended to evoke a staged melodrama, and the shots of the labyrinthine streets and alleys of Venice that would have been fascinating are rendered a little ridiculous by the incongruous glaring lights at night, and there are backdrop style sunsets, etc. In fact the kind of stagy lighting that Lynch uses so effectively at times, maybe Shrader borrowed more than Badalamenti from master David. The cast are all top-notch actors but I think that Walken's voice-over narration at the beginning got me off on the wrong foot. I laughed because it was the same voice as the Continental character he created on Saturday Night Live, it must have been an offshoot of this character. Except that this character, Robert, is a serious as a heart attack, and it was funny to hear that voice and that accent. All in all, this movie bored me. Watch "Cat People" instead for some unadulterated Shrader (pun intended), or "The Go Between" if you're feeling Pinteresque...or "Don't Look Now" for some serious "menace in Venice."
Being fully aware of this film's rather large cult following, I must
nevertheless offer myself as the voice of dissention. I think the
supremely gifted Harold Pinter wrote a diabolically clever
screenplay adaptation, which Paul Schrader directed as if it were
one of his own scripts. The result, to my thinking, is one of the
great missed cinematic opportunities of the1990s. Schrader
(whose intelligent though straight-ahead linear approach has all
the rhythmic subtlety of of a Led Zeppelin concert) could have
easily done a bit of research on Pinter's writing style (which is, by
comparison, like a string quartet by Phillip Glass) but most clearly
couldn't be bothered, very much to the film's ultimate detriment.
Still, Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren are both loads of fun,
I had to watch and read 'The Comfort of Strangers' for film studies and I
must say that though Schrader and the film did what it could to match the
complexities of the book, it didn't completely succeed.
The cast was strong but the casting wasn't - neither Colin nor Mary affected me like they did in McEwan's novel. Rupert Everett is a good actor, but I think he was a little too effeminate for this role. Richardson tried her best to be Mary, but I think she was too soft and dependent. Thumbs up to Robert and Caroline; they lived up to McEwan's characters.
Book better, go read it.
This served as both a tribute to star Natasha Richardson (whose life was tragically cut short last week at just 45 years old) and a belated one in honor of celebrated playwright Harold Pinter (here functioning as a screenwriter adapting somebody else's novel). Considered a psychological thriller although, for the most part, it plays like a drama with erotic undertones my decision to watch it on the day allotted to the former genre certainly paid off given the shocking twist ending. Being set in Venice, it also evoked strong memories of my memorable fortnight's stay there for the 2004 Film Festival. The film is arty and deliberately-paced, but intriguing (if hardly original) and exceedingly well-cast: Christopher Walken (often resorting to hamminess elsewhere, he is quietly chilling here), Richardson (beautiful, obviously talented and truly the image of her mother, Vanessa Redgrave) and Rupert Everett as the couple he ensnares (for kicks) and Helen Mirren as his seemingly reluctant but eventually revealed to be just as ruthless wife/accomplice. Director Schrader, of course, had started off as a writer himself and he wisely leaves the actors (and, by extension, the script) to their own devices. To get back to Richardson's death for a moment, a number of striking parallels are to be found in the film: the central couple are on a vacation (which is what she was doing at the time of her untimely demise), her character has two children (as she did in real-life), and the Walkens intended leaving Venice for Canada (the place of Richardson's fatal skiing accident)!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Takes a long time for things to get moving in this film, though I wouldn't say that boredom creeps in. In the meantime, we are exposed to somewhat strange, a little pointless, and often illogical dialog. The characterization is unclear and self-contradicting. The forced weirdness gets so out of hand that occasionally ridiculous dialog takes place (like the first meeting with Mirren). The big finale - the big shock - then comes when Walken and Mirren kill their object of adoration, only to immediately follow up this act by slobbering each other in what is meant to represent the height of perversion (not to mention absurdity). At the very end we are then subjected to watching an Italian police interrogation which uses methods which only seem to involve asking stupid questions. The very good cast (Mirren and Walken) saves this movie from a lower rating.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although the actors do play very well and give a marvellous
performance, I can say that was all the good about it. In fact, I
decided to buy the movie for their sake: Helen Mirren, Rupert Everett,
Natasha Richardson,who are brilliant actors.
Unfortunately, in our country ratings are not always accurate and for this one definitely was not.
It is not simply a thriller, it is horrifying, and brutal, what is more, sick. I believe viewers should be warned in advance because not everybody has the stomach for it. So now I am spoiling it, understandably, and for a good reason. After all it is not a war movie/ a horror movie where you can expect a few throats cut. And that is exactly what you get, all of a sudden, unexpectedly. Without any good reasoning or a message to tell like in other psychologically much better written thrillers.(e.g. The Devil's Advocate) All you read about " The Comfort of Strangers" is how full it is with lust and reviews concentrate on the British couple's relationship, the chilling ( and boring) music, the wonderfully made images ( again way too boring , like a still of a picture sometimes). No mention of the very violent, direct throat-cutting scene in the end.
I actually loved Rupert in it, his character, the way he was willing to do everything for his girl, but I believe he should have put up a good fight at least, not wait for his killing like a lamb. Maybe, we can say it was a nice depiction of British reserve, politeness and endurance, which obviously was in great contrast with the sadistic man's selfish love. But I guess it could have been shown in a different way, in a much better way.
Also, I am not happy it was filmed in Venice. The novel didn't even mention the name of the town, as far as I know originally it was just "somewhere in Europe". Well, I have never been to Venice but after watching this film, I don't think I ever will. And not because of the story. Mostly because of the atmosphere and the feelings that the pictures created in me, the colours, the music, the way it was made. If that was the aim of filming it there, (i.e. decrease the number of tourists visiting Venice), I can say it was definitely achieved in my case so you can count one would-be tourist out. At least for a good few years until I can forget this eerie movie experience...
And for that I am more than sad.
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