Saturday, March 31, 2012

Terence Davies: The Deep Blue Sea

Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea, Music Box Films, 2012.

Reveling in the past, while examining the hierarchies of 20th century British life, has preoccupied distinguished master Terence Davies for quite some time. His past three films in this vein comprise some of the purest examinations of British family life, gender roles, and dreaming yourself alive via music and movies ever put upon celluloid. Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes have no peers in sheer perception and artistic license. Their truths are cleansing, and his recent documentary Of Time and the City capped it all off; its one of his strongest creations. Somewhere in there he mounted a fine Edith Wharton adaptation, The House of Mirth.

His drive to portray memory, longing, and loss, in an antiquarian style, has not made him immensely popular. But his inability to compromise on the road to motion picture glory, marks him unparalleled. Along with Leigh and Loach, he is the finest living British director.

And so, for his fifth feature film, he has appropriately chosen to adapt a forgotten stage play by a forgotten playwright, ironically already made into a forgotten 50s movie. Terence Rattigan's flair as a dramatist was to subtly uncover the unspoken fissures in 'proper' British society, through character development and dialogue. Davies achieves his own end through visuals and rhythm; for the two to meet halfway is pushing the limits of the sublime. Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea, about the hypocricy of society in the face of unbridled love and passion, was always one of his most interesting works. The stuffy 1955 film version featured an ever resplendent Vivien Leigh as the restrained wife on the edge.

For Davies' hauntingly unforgettable version, the 'true' version of this obscure play, he has wisely chosen the magnetic Rachel Weisz as his tragic Hester. The Hawthornian implications of her name intact, Weisz brings a touch of realism to the character; we believe in her so much as a person trapped, we can feel her heart breaking frame by frame. Within said frame, Davies cooly controls the image, and dp Florian Hoffmeister achieves some of the most ecstatically stylized imagery this side of Greenaway and Malick. Austerity has never felt so electric. Weisz is matched effortlessly by Tom Hiddleston, a fire smoldering in his eyes as her clandestine lover Freddie, and Simon Russell Beale as her old-fashioned husband, Sir William.

Davies has stated that Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain and Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence are his two all-time favorite films. The colorful wish fulfillment, dream daze of a technicolor Hollywood studio musical, and the cold, hard fact of stratification and loss in the past of Wharton's world are visibly alive inside these frames. Here, Davies seems to take his biggest inspiration from Douglas Sirk, the master of the synthetically subtextual 1950s Hollywood studio melodrama. Davies looks to the past, birthing a nostalgic beauty unlike anything else being made these days.

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