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*** 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 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 ***
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 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 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.
*** 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.
Ever wonder what it would be like to experience Paul Schrader's most
famous creation, Travis Bickle, from the outside, only from the
perspective of others just as unhappy and almost as weird, albeit more
passably 'normal'? Look no further. Penned by the truly impressive
one-two punch of Atonement's Ian McEwan (novel) and Harold Pinter
(screenplay), The Comfort of Strangers is a haunting, eerie tale of
lurid sexuality and obsession, the fallout of familial trauma, and the
noxiously addictive nature thereof to bystanders who may not be as
innocent as they seem. It's not always an easy watch (no
straightforward romance involving Christopher Walken is likely to be).
It's liable to leave a thoroughly unpleasant taste in the viewer's
mouth, both from its sordid tale of broken humans, and the inconclusive
ambiguities therein. But, like many of its thematic and spiritual
filmic siblings (Don't Look Now; Last Tango in Paris), which,
admittably, the film falls just short of matching up to, there's
gruesome beauty to be seen therein, making it a dark but deceptively
Any audiences familiar with Pinter's writing will recognize how much he treats words as placeholder artifice, with the deeper truth lying behind non-sequiturs, and, especially, what lies unsaid. He excels at doing so here. For a film that, plot- wise, reads as three successive dinner conversations, dialogue is characteristically sparse, and generally more obfuscating than illuminating. Take Walken's recurring monologue: "My father was a very big man. And he wore a black moustache. When he grew older and it grew grey, he coloured it with a pencil. The kind women use. Mascara." Initially, it's used as a non-sequitur, or social stalling, but every time it's reiterated, each individual word is shown to be essentially deliberate, and tiny, nearly imperceptible character beats (monolithic but paradoxical patriarchy, homophobia, and latent, insecure violence) are unspooled, as if picking at a thread to the point of gradually unravelling a sweater.
It's a slow-burning story, and one that certain viewers not as active in inferring subtle character motivations might grow weary of. Regardless, Schrader crafts an atmosphere of supreme decadence and unease, with Dante Spinotti's cameras creeping through the smoky opulence of Venice's back alleys and canals like Nosferatu preparing to pounce on an unsuspecting victim. You almost wish Schrader had pushed things to an even more memorably expressionistic and transcendental level (as someone like Scorsese or Milos Forman might have), but Angelo Badalamenti's exceptional musical score works wonders in sounding classically elegant, yet just subtly discordant enough to make the hairs on the back of the viewer's neck stand up. There's a perennial feeling throughout of a painstakingly laid out trap preparing to be sprung, and the waiting, no matter how much Baroque sightseeing there is to be done, is increasingly agonizing.
The central quartet of cast are the binding agent which consolidate all the film's stylistic flourishes into a monstrous symphony, all perfectly in synch with the film's tone and unconventional emotional arc. Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett are both spectacular as the young English couple travelling (or returning, as we're continually reminded) to Venice to rekindle their passion and contemplate marriage. Both deftly convey the nuances of ennui without overplaying, and, in their mutual, unexpected surge of passion, let slip essential details of far more detailed and grim characters beneath their beautifully disinterested exteriors. Still, the juiciest roles are bequeathed to Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren, and the two live up to the challenge - both are superbly charismatic and unnerving, as well as essentially human, rather than caving to the temptation to inflate their roles into Hannibal Lector human cartoons. Walken's fusion of silky, debonair, laconic charm and demented, inhuman underbelly has never been put to such good use, his every line a purr of concealed lust or threat, while Mirren, pristinely teasing ambiguous notes of either primal fear or psychotic madness beneath her tightly wound housewife exterior, manages to make an equally grating impact with less screen time. There's a theatrical quality to the airtight chemistry the four share, and even as the material fails to come to a climax that properly satisfies after the operatic buildup, they're so riveting you'll be too distracted to sweat the semantics.
A somewhat forgotten gem of skin-crawling European lust, The Comfort of Strangers may not quite stretch to the level of timeless classic, but it lingers on the viewer for days afterwards, like a sticky, shameful hangover. Whether to drink in the sumptuous Venetian scenery or the immaculate performances, Schrader and Pinter's Gothic, fatalistic romance is worth taking in on a muggy, cloudy summer night. As Richardson and Everett are sucked in by Walken and Mirren, like spiders jovially binding guests in their web, taking in The Comfort of Strangers can only end in discomfort, but the proceedings are too sickeningly infatuating to escape.
*** 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.
with a brief interlude of unaccountable horror. And that's all. A
pastiche of false subtleties. Forget about it. Fleshing out this review
is much like what fleshing out the screenplay must have been -- it
implies an underlying motivating principle in its characters, but there
is no such principle in the ideas. Bo one can tell, from the beginning
or the end, that there was any coherent idea in this film.
I'm surprised, as well, that the pretense of the film went unnoticed. Since I must go on with my comment, and as I had to endure the slowly passing puzzlement of the film, I say simply that it didn't justify itself, which is, after all, what a good film aims for. This one is not a contender.
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