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This is an interesting but ultimately fairly nasty film made from a
story by Ian McEwan who some years ago wrote "The Ploughman's Lunch".
an effective and pitiless story of Thatcher's Britain. This time
McEwan's story is set in an unnamed city but director Paul Schrader,
famous as the writer of the 1976 New York horror film "Taxi Driver",
has set the "Comfort of Strangers" in Venice, to very good effect.
Grandeur, decay, and corruption haunt every frame and what might seem
highly implausible in Hampstead becomes almost natural on the shores of
Our protagonists Colin and Mary (Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson) are a youngish unmarried English couple who are revisiting Venice on holiday. In reality, they are trying to decide what to do about their relationship. She is divorced, with two small children. He loves her, he says, but has doubts about marriage and living together. Late at night while in search of somewhere to eat, they meet, apparently by chance, the elegant and charming Robert (Christopher Walken). He takes them to a bar and entertains them with stories from his past. Next morning he bumps into them again as they are having coffee in Pizza San Marco. He affects remorse at having left them to find their own way home the previous night (they got lost and spent the night by a canal) and invites them back to his apartment for a nap and dinner. Robert lives in a truly grand, if museum-like, apartment on the Grand Canal with his Canadian wife Caroline (Helen Mirren). By now it has become apparent that there is something a bit odd about both Robert and his wife. When (in the absence of the ladies) Colin rather tactlessly remarks on the museum-like atmosphere of the apartment Robert delivers him a sharp blow to his solar plexus. Helen confesses to having spent half an hour watching Colin and Mary sleeping and talks about the connection between pain and sexual pleasure. However, dinner passes off pleasantly enough and they return to their hotel.
Colin and Mary continue their holiday and find their interest in each other rekindled. In fact they seem to be constantly making love, or wanting to. It looks as if they will marry after all. Then, while they are passing near Robert's apartment, Caroline spots them from her balcony and invites them in. Matters soon become decidedly unpleasant.
If this is a moral tale, I'm not sure what the moral is. Watch out for twitchy foreigners wearing linen Armani suits when on holiday abroad? If it is a study in sexual decadence there's no explanation as to why the characters are the way they are (though Robert's diplomat father, he of the mascara moustache, sounds like a real bully). Well, I didn't really get the point of "Taxi Driver" either, except that it indicated the NY taxi licensing people needed to do something about the Travis Bickles in their fleet. Are we supposed to start enjoying it when nasty things start happening to our protagonists, who, while not particularly likable, do not seem to deserve their fate either?
The Venetian atmosphere was well evoked and I enjoyed all the main performances, though Christopher Walken was just a bit too twitchy - too obviously odd - at times. Rupert Everett struck just the right note of supercilious self-absorption required for Colin (is every male in English publishing an upper-class prat?) Helen Mirren as Caroline managed to convince us that an apparently gentle person can harbour some pretty violent desires. Natasha Richardson also struck the right note as the attractive, slightly fuzzy-minded but decent Mary.
This is the second Harold Pinter film I have seen during the Harold Pinter film festival being held at Lincoln Center in New York. I think his adaptations are great. Paul Schrader's direction in this movie was wonderful. The long shots and thoughtful portrayal of the surroundings added immensely to the overall beauty and cleverness of the film. You need to be able to get a sense of the place where the movie takes place. I believe Schrader captured Venice perfectly. When I traveled in Italy, the only place I ever felt uneasy was walking through Venice at night. Walken is a genius, regardless of what people say about him. He has the same stage presence as a Brando, Dean or Steiger. He embodies his character. I would recommend anyone to see this film and am encouraging my 30 yr old son who is an aspiring actor to see it and learn from the masters!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When does a simple vacation become an erotic odyssey? That is the
question the trailer for this film asks. You can just see some
copywriter somewhere coming up with that one. Nevertheless, it is a
question I have often asked myself. I can't tell you how many times I
thought I was on a simple vacation, and wouldn't you know, it turned
out to be an erotic odyssey. But more often than not, there I am,
thinking I'm on an erotic odyssey, and it turns out to be just a simple
vacation. You know, you really never can tell.
Okay, I'll stop ragging on the copywriting in the trailer now. How for the movie itself? It's a very good, unsettling tale of perverted sexuality and latent homoeroticism that unfolds at a leisurely pace in Venice. This movie is a sort of bookend movie to Don't Look Now, so much so that I strongly suspect that the Ian McEwan novel was at least partially inspired by the Daphne DuMaurier novel (as well as, it must be acknowledged, Death in Venice). They both include a couple with a shaky relationship in Venice, several scenes of getting lost in the winding streets, the intrusion of a mysterious and disruptive stranger, and similarly surprising endings.
Rupert Everett plays Colin, in a strained relationship with Natasha Richardson's Mary. They are on vacation in Venice, where they had vacationed two years previously, in the hopes of sorting out whether or not they want to continue with their relationship. Mary has two kids from a prior marriage that Colin does not seem particularly fond of, and he seems to regard her as insipid and whiny-which she pretty much is. When she remarks that she thought some paintings they saw were incredible, he dismissively remarks: "That's what you thought last time." Can this union be saved? Add to this a lopsided sexual tension throughout. They are constantly talking about how beautiful Colin is, and whether he is more beautiful than Mary. They discuss whether the people they see are looking at Mary or Colin. The film itself fetishizes Colin, offering long, loving shots of him nude or shirtless, which, as it turns out, serves the story. While Colin is in no way portrayed as gay, it is obvious that he can't summon up any interest in Mary, and certainly doesn't seem to care much for her kids. But there is a homoerotic tone just in the way the camera lingers over him and the way his beauty is a recurring topic of interest.
The couple get lost late one night, and run into Christopher Walken as Robert, who invites them to a bar that it turns out he owns. The bar seems to be populated entirely by men who seem pretty gay to me, although later two shots are inserted that show women. Later Robert tells two other guys who are interested in Colin that Colin is his lover. At the bar Robert gets them drunk and tells them a long and disturbing story about his imperious and dominating father. They get the creeps from him, but can't avoid seeing him again the next day, and being invited to his house, where they meet his wife Caroline, played by Helen Mirren.
Colin and Mary sleep, and wake to find that their clothes have been taken. Caroline tells them, and makes Mary repeat to Colin because it's so important, that she came into their room and watched them for a half hour while they slept. She waxes on and on about Colin's beauty. The whole thing is getting creepy fast, and gets more so when Robert suddenly punches Colin in the stomach after he indirectly insults Robert for being obsessed with his father.
It continues to get creepier and creepier, and I wouldn't dare spoil the surprising ending for you, but suffice to say that the film's point of view isn't the only one with a homoerotic obsession with Colin and his beauty.
The movie opens with a wonderful credits sequence as the camera languidly floats through Robert and Caroline's apartment to the languid strains of one of Angelo Badalamenti's most beautiful scores. I saw this movie when it came out 15 years ago, and one of the things I never forgot is this credits sequence and the wonderful score. As usual for a Paul Schrader film, the whole thing moves a bit too slowly for my taste, but at least there's a story here to tell, and the screenplay by Harold Pinter does a great job of capturing the disjointed nature of real conversation.
It's hard to tell much more of the story without talking about the ending, a problem the trailer has, which it solves by pretty much showing the entire story from beginning to end, while delivering idiotic commentary such as the aforementioned question regarding simple vacations vs. erotic odysseys. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating, disturbing film with great performances from Walken and Mirren, and if you liked Don't Look Now, you should definitely look into it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A quintessnetial Christopher Walken movie. A bizarre tale and exploration
sado-masachistic trap to the extreme, where the struggle for control and
power leads to the sadist's worst nightmare, the death of the subject, and
thus, the loss of empowerment. Multi dimensional in its psychological
exploration of the dark and animalistic this movie is entertaining as
Christopher Walken has never been more Christopher Walken in any other movie than this.
I cannot say if it's weird in a good or bad way, because the movie
carried me from suspense-weird through curious-weird and finally
scabrous-weird, leaving me with a weird sensation in my stomach.
Apparently there is no other reason except insanity that drives Robert(Walken at his best) to do the things that he does. He's a psychopath.
In a way there are two angles to this:
1.The young naive American couple(brilliantly played by both Everett and Richardson) that travels to a strange place(Venice), a world that incites them to discover and finally to submit to a strange sensation of lust.
and 2.The close character study of a charismatic psychopath(Walken), whom the couple cannot resist, despite early warning that he may be dangerous.
Personally I believe the movie has no clear message, but in turn shows what lust of any kind can lead to and goes all the way in doing this. The "mascara" bit still haunts me.
The plot of this film without disclosing any details can be summed
up with your Mother's admonition to you as a pre-teen: "Never Talk
If you ever wondered, "Why Not?", see this movie for a possible answer.
The best way to approach Paul Schrader's stylish but unsettling new film is without any knowledge of the (admittedly slim) plot, involving two innocents abroad and their fateful encounter in decadent Venice with a local couple whose Old World manners hide a malignant obsession. This isn't the romantic Venice of many a travel guide, but a dark and ominous maze of Byzantine alleys and dead end streets, and Schrader gives the city a wonderfully rich and gritty sense of after-hours entropy. Harold Pinter's screenplay is likewise (and typically) indirect, but the combination of an incredibly dense and evocative mood with the author's teasing lack of narrative helps to create a feeling of almost unspeakable dread. The film is certainly an acquired taste: perverse and pretentious in the old-fashioned European art house tradition (and, at times, oddly and inappropriately comic), but the effect can be disturbing to viewers caught in the right frame of mind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Christopher Walken is perfectly cast as the enigmatic Robert in Harold
Pinter's adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel: The Comfort of Strangers.
Like many of Pinter's stage plays, including The Caretaker and The
Birthday Party, the script builds slowly and deliberately and is very
talky. Walken and wife Helen Mirren as Caroline feign interest in
tourists who are at a crossroads in their troubled relationship: Rupert
Everett (Colin) and Natasha Richardson (Mary). The couple "happens"
upon Walken one night; he finds a late night bar open, and proceeds to
mesmerize the couple with stories of his life. At one point, Richardson
asks Walken about himself, and he simply looks at her, avoids answering
the question, and proceeds as before. The couple are unable to find
their way back to their hotel, and Walken profusely apologizes for
keeping the couple up so late that he invites them to his house for
dinner when he "bumps into them" again.
Once at Walken's home, things begin to unravel as Everett and Richardson become ensnared in a wider plan. Are they naive, ignorant, or just too self-absorbed to realize what's unfolding? Walken and Richardson keep the viewer interested in the film. Mirren, although usually interesting, appears miscast here, and Everett doesn't generate enough feeling for Richardson for us to care enough about him or their relationship. Despite the Venetian locale, the film is tedious at times even though Pinter's dialog compels the viewer to watch. The film doesn't give viewers enough time to digest its ending, as it is rather abrupt. As with some of Pinter's writing, some parts are greater than the whole. Due to the last lines Walken has, one gets the idea that Pinter intended to dupe the viewer in the same manner the couple was in the film. **1/2 of 4 stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I bought this in a set marked as 'Triple Feature Romance'. I can't
imagine the morbid mind that would consider this movie a romance! I
don't think I would have liked it even if I hadn't been expecting an
undemanding love story, but then I probably wouldn't have watched it if
it had been in a set with an accurate label. Certainly there is sex,
even love, mostly of a very odd, sick type, but the obsession that
leads a couple to murder the unwitting object of their sexual fantasies
goes beyond the mere quirkiness of BDSM and stalking into a truly
Yes, the scenery is nice, but I'm not sure Colin is quite so beautiful as to cause such fascination at first sight from a distance, though the obsessive couple are frighteningly believable. *shudder* But I'm not sure I can believe the two would be so stupid as to return to the apartment of a man they already have good reason to feel uneasy about! Going there in the first place was odd enough after their experience with him the night before.
this strange movie probably either grasps you totally or it doesn't do it for you at all. I loved it. Especially the small scenes that don't seem to have anything to do with the story and the little hints that you get the third or fourth time you see it. Why doesn't Colin protest when Robbert hits him in the stomach? Why does he 'want' to return? Is he in love with Robbert? Is he just a weakling giving in to a stronger personality like Robbert's? Why does Colin's girlfriend suddenly give him the cold shower when he finally gives in to her wish to commit? Are the man/woman roles of today indeed so confusing? What is this movie actually about? I've seen it a couple of times, a very well acted and one of the most confusing movies I've ever seen. Now I think it's about man/woman roles that have changed since the last decades, from when Robberts father lived, the big strong man who painted his moustache black with mascara, to nowadays when Colin accepts that his wive has children by someone before him and wants to live her own life, at least after he gave in to her wish to commit himself. The end. I won't give it away, but it could be a last desperate attempt of Robbert and his wife to keep the good old times alive as well as the result of the inner weakness of what a man like Colin has become.
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