For nearly thirty years, "Last Year At Marienbad" has gone begging for the perfect film to round out a double bill suitable for residents of Limbo and/or Purgatory. Now at last there IS one: "The Comfort Of Strangers", the latest from everybody's favourite divinity school dropout: Grand Rapid, Michigan's own Paul Schrader. Let's hear it! Or to be more precise, let's hear whaaat? How about some hot dialogue from the one and only Harold Pinter, Schrader's accomplice in this cinematic minefield. HE: "Why IS there no other word for thigh?" SHE: "It's a perfectly good word, what's wrong with it?" HE: "Yes, but..." Then HE goes on to list a dreary and depressing series of anatomical euphemisms & bemoans the fate of the humble word "thigh" which stands alone and unadorned without a single degrading alternate.
This riveting sequence says a lot about the rest of the film. Natasha Richardson plays a young British mother of two who leaves them at home to travel to Venice with her even-more British lover Rupert Everett. The match is not made in heaven and it is clear that they are beginning to bore each other. There are only a zillion restaurants in Venice, but one night they can't find one and who should crawl out of the nearest dark alley but a slimy stranger in a white suit? (Christopher Walken, of course, typecast this time with an all purpose Italian-Bavarian accent!)
Natasha and Rupert follow Christopher down more dark alleys to a crumby bar he assures them is really good, but turns out to be his bar, where no food is available. They chew on breadsticks, swallow wine and listen to stories from this character, who amazingly, is even more boring than they are. Afterwards, Natasha gets sick in the street where she and Rupert wake up the next morning. The next day, they try to avoid Christopher, but he drags them to his house, anyway. His "Canadian" wife is Helen Mirren who watches them while they sleep and then tells them about it Before they all. have dinner that night, Christopher punches Rupert in the stomach for no reason. Natasha and Rupert resume their stupifyingly dull holiday until they see Helen waving to them from her window. Not wishing to be rude, they pop in to say hello, Christopher invites Rupert to follow him down more dark alleys, Helen prepares a drink for Natasha, two people walk out of the theatre, one of them hissing, "Oh, the English"!
Three guys in front of me are in stitches, I am in stitches and at least one stuffed shirt is disgusted with all of us for not accepting this beautiful work of art with appropriate reverence. Our reaction probably counts as a venial sin, at least. I went home and enjoyed watching "Goldfinger" and "Arsenic And Old Lace" which just may count as FOUR mortal sins.
Copyright 1991 Monica Sullivan
"Movie Magazine International" Movie Review Index
"Movie Magazine International" Home Page