Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5
USA, 1977. Lion’s Gate Films. Screenplay by Robert Altman. Cinematography by Charles Rosher Jr.. Produced by Robert Altman. Music by Gerald Busby. Production Design by James Dowell Vance. Film Editing by Dennis M. Hill.
A truly bizarre but incredible film that has pushed audiences in various directions since its release–even diehard Robert Altman fans might not be huge fans of it. It is, however, a fascinating exploration of the archetypes of women in cinema as exemplified by meek, strange Sissy Spacek who becomes roommates with fashionable but socially isolated Shelley Duvall after the two meet while working at a senior citizens’ home. Spacek’s awkwardness eventually angers Duvall to the point of a devastating climax, after which point their relationship veers in a new direction until an ending that puts a fascinating psychological twist on it all. Meanwhile, the pregnant wife of a local bar owner (Janice Rule), who speaks very little but paints her hypnotic visuals everywhere she appears, exists hovering over the two women for reasons unknown for most of the film.
Altman’s camera plunges deep into the minds of its protagonists; you won’t necessarily know how you feel about the film right after you’ve seen it, but it will stay with you for a surprisingly long time. The performances are all exceptional, with Duvall really knocking it out of the park (she received the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival). Her “thoroughly modern” Millie is instantly laughable and likable; her constant monologues about trivial matters and her obsession with her perfect hairstyle are undermined at every turn by her obvious lack of popularity, but Altman never makes it a point of ridicule. Meanwhile Spacek does an awe-inspiring job of playing what is essentially a multitude of characters in one film, solid in every scene and always captivating. It’s unlike anything else the great American master ever did (no surprise it was based on a series of dreams he had), and it’s unforgettable.
The Criterion Collection: #230
Cannes Film Festival Award: Best Actress (Shelley Duvall)