Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Screen Log - The Three Women of Altman Edition

Screen Log is a new weekly feature here at The Image Loft, based on some of my weeks watchings I will include short reviews and a center piece. This week, it's Robert Altman's ethereal dream 3 Women as well as Haneke, Chaplin and my first venture into the 'Brothers Dardenne.'

Screen Log: The Three Woman of Altman

  • Lorna's Silence (2008, Dardenne) - http://uk.mubi.com/films/475
  • The Seventh Continent (1989, Haneke) - http://mubi.com/films/the-seventh-continent 
  • 3 Women (1977, Altman) - Blu Ray

Lorna's Silence 
 (Le Silence de Lorna)

The Dardenne brothers have been at the forefront of European cinema for over the last decade since their break-out La Promesse in 1996 (which, along with Rosetta, has just been released by Criterion on Blu Ray for the first time.) Yet I found myself a little apprehensive when approaching Lorna's Silence, after all there certain attributes with modern European dramas that one does not often associate with entertainment. However much to my delight, I was very impressed with my first Dardenne feature. Lorna is a rather harrowing deconstruction of a marriage built without love and a determinedly realistic look at the people trafficking industry before becoming a mediation on the effects of guilt on women. Arta Dobroshi barely escapes the frame, constantly shot in close ups and marked with the colour red. She is terrific as Lorna, a woman so alienated by her situation she strips herself from sexuality. The supporting cast are equally great, especially Jérémie Renier who plays faux husband and junkie Claudy. The film is shot deliberately flat, as if to drain expression from such a bleak situation. Inescapable and engaging, it's not the easiest of watches but it is a powerful one.

The Seventh Continent
(Der Siebente Kontinent)
Michael Haneke's debut feature (and my seventh) centered around the true story of an Austrian family who destroy their entire possessions before taking their own lives. Haneke's debut is examination of mundane, meaningless modern existence is a little too heavy handed to really illustrate what drove this family to commit such an unspeakable act. Lingering shots of cornflakes, long silences and a discomforting car wash end up burdening the viewer with a sense that this how Haneke imagines middle class life. With that said, the films final 25 minutes are a devastating subversion of freedom as the family systematically destroy their possessions, it brings them no joy and they find themselves unable to escape the prison of routine. A flawed exercise in observation, but a fascinating watch.

3 Women

When asked about 3 Women, Robert Altman said he wanted to make a movie to which people could say nothing if not what they felt, well Mr Altman it made me feel good. Real good.
This study of identity and women is frequently compared to Bergman's Persona, but the film is much an observation on American idiosyncrasy and alienation. Perhaps in that sense it is comparable to Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout, which also featured overlapping sound design and unhinged camera work to define itself as a piece an alienation from ones cultural background.
The title refers to the three main characters; Millie played by Shelly Duvall is a self-deluded, incessantly chatty woman who is blind to the complete contempt for which she is held by her co-workers and neighbours. The second is the younger Pinkie played by Sissy Spacek, she observes and acts with child like compulsion, snooping through others belongings and blowing bubbles in her drink. The film is centered around the relationship between these two women who meet through a job working in a spa for old people before becoming roommates. The third woman is Janice Rule's Willie owner of an run-down Western themed bar that the girls drink at. She is heavily pregnant, speaks very little and spends her time painting Greek murals of reptilian women locked in combat with one solitary male figure, it is the figure of her husband Edgar. A former TV stuntman who clings to his vague non-status to boost his ego. These are people absorbed in self delusion

Altman has frequent overlays of water flowing over the protagonists, it becomes a wall stopping them from integrating into their society, but it also suggests the displacement of their individual identities. It is also a film of doubles; twins, mirrors and reflections all reinforce the link between women. Initially, Millie treats Pinkie as merely a means to boast her ego. She doles out backhanded remarks, passes blame on to her and eventually drives her to attempt suicide, thus landing her in a coma. However when  Pinkie recovers, she takes on Millie's personality, but a much popular version. She is not ignored by her neighbours, but swarmed by them. Altman is highlighting the shared persona of the American woman; the desire for attention. Spacek is a chameleon with her snake-like features, Duvall has a displaced grace; strutting with confidence only to catch her dress in a car door. Rule's Willie is perhaps the films most important character, she says little but seems to be aware of what is happening with a haunted gaze and prophetic portraits. 

3 Women is an endlessly fascinating surrealist dream of the alienation and identity of the American woman and the ultimate absence of man. Coated in thick symbolism matched by it's distinct modernist score it reaches a certain sensual cinematic purity that few can achieve. Altman claimed the film was born of a dream, that much is obvious as it is layered in personal anxieties and longing. It must have been an inspiration for Lynch's bonafide masterpiece Mulholland Drive in which is has a lot in common (including a cowboy!) But this modernist American classic is nothing without the women it was made for, it ends with the a ghostly contortion of the traditional family life, absent of any male presence, the women find themselves lost in time, but at last together.  




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