Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 24, 2012 11:20 am 
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RACHEL WEISZ IN THE DEEP BLUE SEA

Terence Davies' dark screen poem of sad doomed love

The Hunger Games is the huge new super blockbuster debuted this weekend, destined, they say, to push Twilight out of the top spot as monarch of the box office and king of the hearts of teenage girls, and boys, and everybody. At this moment it seems more than ever sweet to look instead at Terrence Davies' beautiful new swoon of a sad romance, The Deep Blue Sea. Disorientation is the name of the game for Davies here, and we're apparently meant to be lost in the dreamy mood rather than follow a coherent sequence. It's a strange approach but it works, and many individual moments are so memorable they come back to haunt you. Some viewers may come out and say, What was that? Very well. Choose instead if you like a CGI spectacle about violent teenagers in a dystopian future. The Deep Blue Sea is a better movie. It's an intimate emotional picture of the middle of the last century, a fateful, claustrophobic world that is strange and remote but will also be familiar to anyone who has loved and lost.

The Deep Blue Sea is a second, much later adaptation of a 1952 Terrence Rattigan play (the play has been re-staged recently, with success). The first film version was made in 1955 by Anatole Litvak. With Vivian Leigh as Hester, the doomed adulterous protagonist. Can Rachel Weisz fill Leigh's shoes? I don't know, but I would guess she does. Her Hester seems deeply at home in a story that ill fits the twenty-first century. Hester is beautiful but a little too old to be a bad girl. To enjoy The Deep Blue Sea you must enter into a world where adultery is an important concept, and marriage a trap. Davies and his cast embrace the spirit of this old, "dated" story with enthusiasm, and must have understood that they were producing a vision that was as troubling as it is, for today, unique.

Davies' version, with its dark, blurry cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister in part evokes the world of a Forties film. Its values are of our grandparents or great grandparents. The foreground action is set "around 1950," but a lot of the film is in meandering flashbacks that touch on the time of the War. Moreover the charming but childish and lost RAF pilot Freddie Page (Tom Huddleston) is still living nearly a decade before: flying in the Battle of Britain was the last time he felt truly alive. Now he drowns his lostness in drink. Hester is lost too. Does anyone care about her? As a flashback shows, she was quietly despised by her mother-in-law (Barbara Jefford). Freddie has recently grown tired of her. Her husband, a judge, and an older man, Sir William Collyer (British theatrical legend Simon Russell Beale) was furious at her when he found out about her affair and declared he would never give her a divorce. Her minister father (Oliver Ford Davies) has not sympathized with her.

And perhaps intentionally, though it's disorienting, nothing makes clear logical or chronological sense. It's all a bad dream. At the outset, Hester attempts suicide. There are flashbacks that fill us in on how she met Freddie, and their first lovemaking (twisted muscular pale legs wrestling in a bed), then her husband's reaction when he discovers the affair by overhearing Hester utter endearments on the phone. And there are other flashbacks, equally vivid, equally pale, dark, and dreamlike, including a beautifully staged scene in a Tube shelter during the bombing of London in which a man is singing (in several other scenes, everyone is singing in unison in a pub, linking present with past, these scenes dreamlike too). We see Freddie move Hester into a walkup flat. At the same time the foreground narrative slowly edges forward, dragging out Hester's inevitable disappointment -- again -- with Freddie. She keeps begging, all the while promising that she won't beg, for a little more time with him, and he edges away, talking about a job in South America, playing golf and getting drunk with pals.

The theatrical pivot point is Hester's suicide note, which somehow she manages to leave out by mistake, so that when he comes back to the flat, after a while Freddie finds it. She didn't want anyone but those who saved her to know. She begs him not to read it. But he does. It's addressed to him, he insists. Once he knows, it's over. "We are lethal for each other," he says. Doesn't she see it?

But this is all a blur. Whether or not Rattigan meant it to be, Davies does, and he achieves the blur with the dark cinematography, the glissandos of the editing by David Charap, blurring transitions, making it all seem like a dark bad dream about someone whose first real love goes wrong because she loves him so much more than he loves her, and hopelessly so, because she knows it.

This is definitely a movie that will turn a lot of people off. You have to get with the dated, politically incorrect values that make Hester doomed, somehow, however you slice it, punished for infidelity: you have to grant that these are valid for the period of the events. And you have to accept that Davies and his editor are giving us a visual poem organized by emotional logic. It's really not about the order of events. It's all the expression of feelings about a failed love affair, about being abandoned. Rattigan wrote the play in response to the suicide of an ex-lover, Kenneth Morgan, but the specifics don't matter. One must imagine our own feelings -- if we've been anywhere near Hester's -- displaced to postwar London.

There are some extraordinary images here, and they show Davies is evoking the past in the same richly emotional way he did in his admired documentaries about postwar England, Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, with details added from his more recent autobiographical Of Time and the City. Those who know Davies' work will expect something special and see this as what it is, a classic with a strangely remote feel, but a strong emotional pull. Weisz is excellent, and so is everyone else, as well as Ann Mitchell as Mrs. Elton, the lower class but very decent landlady. Davies makes excellent use of Samuel Barber's "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14," delivering the piece in great swoony swathes as David Lean did with Rachmaninoff in the obviously relevant Brief Encounter. It's a Forties movie way of using music, but it's better than most Forties movie music. This is retro style with sincerity, originality, and class.

The Deep Blue Sea debuted at Toronto in September 2011 and went into limited US release March 23, 2012.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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