This movie glistens like a piece of old Belleek. Whether in the subtle gold of an off the shoulder evening gown, or in the vast expanse of a deep, plush, ivory colored carpet, nearly every frame shimmers with champagne like iridescence.
And gold is an apt visual metaphor, particularly when juxtaposed against the black satin of a tuxedo lapel or the wintry Manhattan night scape, for a world seemingly vanishing right before our eyes--a world too sleek, too soigné, too genteel to survive the steam roller of galloping blue-jeaned egalitarianism.
That the denizens of this vanishing breed, as depicted in the film, are themselves, insecure late adolescents, make its departure all the more poignant.
"This is probably the last Deb season..." one of them observes resignedly, "...because of the stock market, the economy, Everything..." Yes, everything...the huge smothering subject that hovers all around the plot itself and from which its characters are only temporarily insulated.
In particular, the focus here is on a group of privileged Eastern Seaboard collegians enjoying the Christmas holidays in a series of Park Avenue, "after dance parties," in which they loll about and ruefully anticipate the disappearance of their youth, their success, and their kind.
That they are one at the same time cerebral, immature, literate, prankish, frightened, polished, well educated but vulnerable and inexperienced, puts them well outside the troglodyte teens that inhabit the deconstructionist zoo in most post 1970 films, (with the exception of a unfortunate and mis-placed "strip poker" sequence which violates the picture's otherwise overall mood.)
Indeed, they seem to exist outside their own time, belonging rather to that group Cecil Beaton dubbed "the smart young things" from the 1920's, in his "The Glass of Fashion." Certainly, one imagines them far more comfortable with Ivor Novello than Mick Jagger. And like many "smart sets" they seem rather a closed corporation.
Until that is, into their number unexpectedly arrives a young man of reduced circumstances, Tom Townsend, (Edward Clements) who by virtue of his sincerity and intelligence, is invited to "sup at their table--on a borrowed pass" so to speak. His romantic misadventures with the beguiling Audrey Rouget(Carolyn Farina)forms the cynosure of the charmingly fragile plot.
Audrey and Tom stand out from the pack, in their earnestess and integrity, though it is assuredly Nick, (Christopher Eigeman) their figurehead and chief quip master who is the groups' un-elected leader. As interpreted by Mr. Eigeman, Nick is the embodiment of the cocktail fueled, cigarette wielding bon vivant--trenchant, self absorbed, far from virtuous, and with a ready verbal arrow that never misses its target. He is George Sander's heir presumptive.
Nick's observations are worth the whole price of admission as they say, whether it be bemoaning the Protestant Reformation, the social climbing Surrealists, or the scarcity of detachable collars.
Since the film's short, bouffant,cocktail dresses and automobiles unmistakably place the film in very late modernity--the Reagan era in fact, and long after the Ray Anthony's Orchestra, top hatted milieu it depicts, we cannot fail to miss the film's core observation--the parallel evanescence of the groups' own social connections, as placed against the simultaneous collapse of civilized life as we once knew it.
As the Christmas season ends, so do the nightly gatherings, and each character is forced to come to terms with impermanence--their own and everything else's. In a melancholy bar scene, an older man warns the youngsters of disappointment ahead, "I'm not destitute but...it's all so mediocre."
That Producer/Director Whit Stillman manages to fuse the personal with the sociological in such and intriguing and entrancing way is a testament to the penetration of his vision.
And, lest we miss the point, he includes a cunning shot of a significant book left on bedside table--none other than Spengler's "Decline of the West."
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