Feb 6, 2018

REVIEW: Phantom Thread (dir. Anderson)

'The film a distant cousin of this fervid Gothic romances — including Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Suspicion, Sleeping with the Enemy, and, yes, Fifty Shades of Grey — in which women first submit to and then break free of the clutches of an over-controlling svengali figure. Like Scorsese, Anderson loves those old melodramas to the point of limbic entrancement without wishing to abide by their rules or deliver on their narrative satisfactions. We get a ghost of that dead mother, a lush Franz Waxman inspired piano score, while Lesley Manville’s Cyril evokes the forbidding shade of Mrs Danvers in Rebecca, hovering in the wings of her brother’s meticulous routine. “Are you sent here to ruin my evening? And possibly my entire life?” explodes Reynolds at one point, after Alma has prepared his asparagus with butter rather than oil and salt the way he likes it. She further tells him she loves him. He acts as if ambushed. It’s a film, in short, about emotional fascism — someone whose very identity is threatened by the presence of another and whose idea of a relationship requires the complete subjugation of that person’s will. Phantom Thread is about right: In what Day Lewis has said will be his last performance, he summons the ghosts of performances past, marrying the epicene manners of his aesthete Cecil in Room with a View, the adamantine psychic furnace of a Bill the Butcher, while Anderson skips merrily at his side, in secret, mischievous league with his leading man, just as he was with with Day Lewis’s oilman in There Will Be Blood. Paul Dano’s preacher barely registered. The same with Joaquin Phoenix’s sottish sailor  in  The Master, drawn into queasy Stockholm-Syndromish thrall to Hoffman’s cult leader, like a mongoose hypnotized by a cobra. Anderson seems to love these great, terrible, iron-willed men — they are the stuff of masterpiece cinema  — but is so far incapable of creating an antagonist of sufficient stature to challenge or oppose them. His films are versions of Citizen Kane in which Kane wins.  Krieps probably comes closest of anyone to redressing this imbalance. She’s a terrific find: calm and imperturbable, with a both pretty and plain depending on the light. “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose,” she tells Reynolds, with an eagle eye for his weakness: when sick, he is as open and tender as she could wish. From this springs the film’s major third-act twist, both perverse and more than a little preposterous — it wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a 30-minute episode of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and joins Anderson’s growing collection of bizarro endings, like the raining frogs at the end of Magnolia or the rant about milkshakes that capped There Will Be Blood. His films don’t develop so much as circle, intensify and then suddenly derail, like someone crashing a bike into a ditch. I’m not sure Anderson believes in plot or character development per se.  “There is an air of quiet death in this house,” Reynolds says, and the film is as expert, airless and monomaniacal as he is: the Max De Winter story as told by Max De Winter. Free spirits need not apply.' — from my Sunday Times review

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