Friday, April 28, 2017

Sex and Death in Venice (and everything in between), or Thoughts on The Comfort of Strangers

A stylish, erotic thriller starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Walken from the director of Cat People (1982) and written by Harold Pinter?  That’s really the only sentence you need to read before The Comfort of Strangers (1990), a darkly subversive travelogue about what can happen when you meet the locals on vacation.
Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson are Colin and Mary, a nice English couple rekindling their failing relationship in Venice when they stumble into a kinky Merchant-Ivory production after meeting Robert and Caroline, a decadent couple living in a gorgeous Venetian palazzo.  Robert of course is played by the inimitable Christopher Walken, with a confusing Italian/American/Weirdo European accent while his wife is portrayed by the equally stellar Helen Mirren.
The Harold Pinter screenplay and its circular, indirect and word-rich dialogue focuses more on creating a mood and tone than exposition, while director Paul Schraeder is there to provide the twisted sexuality amidst the perfectly framed shots of Venetian alleys and obscure bars and cafes, far away from the tourist traps.  The movie is as much a portrait of Venezia in the 90’s as it is a showcase for Christopher Walken’s charming sadist in a white linen suit.
With a wardrobe by Giorgio Armani, speaking of white linen suits, and a dreamlike soundtrack from David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badlamenti of Twin Peaks (1990), Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (2001).





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