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Monday, May 20, 2013

THE ROMANTIC ENGLISHWOMAN (1975)

Once you take away the three collaborations with thorny playwright (and Nobel Laureate) Harold Pinter, it’s hard to justify Joseph Losey’s post-BlackList reputation directing films in Europe. You’ll certainly need those Pinter works as hindsight if this bumpy marital-thriller is to gain even a reasonable measure of interest. Glenda Jackson, the moody wife of frustrated novelist Michael Caine, is taking a marriage break at Baden-Baden when she starts a momentary affair with mysterious gigolo Helmut Berger. Or is it just happening in Caine’s novelistic imagination? Things get more complicated when Berger all but invites himself into their home, provoking Caine to taunt his wife by keeping him around as assistant and general provocateur, unaware of Berger’s current troubles as a drug courier on the run. It’s a lot of plot for a plotless film! Especially since the main point is getting the three leads back to PinterLand in an ominously threatening second act with plenty of emotionally opaque darts to throw, courtesy of another acclaimed playwright, Tom Stoppard. If only those terribly non-Pinteresque explanations didn't keep getting in the way, what with Caine seeking to spark his dried out writer’s imagination (Check!); Jackson seeking passion & escape (Check!); and Berger seeking to avoid the thugs who are after him, but finding an emotional involvement new to him (Double Check!). We’ve dipped pretty far from faux-Pinter to sub-par-Pinter. Losey seems unconcerned, setting up his preferred window-framed shots and mirror images within a typically brusque style. Only, Michael Lonsdale, playing an enforcer out to get Berger, finds the droll unease that’s missing elsewhere. But it's too little, too late.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The early Losey/Pinter projects, THE SERVANT/’63 and ACCIDENT/’67 hold up brilliantly, chilly as ever.

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