Carnal Knowledge (1971)

MIKE NICHOLS

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.5

USA, 1971.   .   Screenplay by .   Cinematography by .   Produced by .   Production Design by .   Costume Design by .   Film Editing by .   Academy Awards 1971.   Golden Globe Awards 1971.   

The male sexual psyche is given a critical, depressing going over in this brilliantly acted drama by Mike Nichols. Determined not to be too generous to the audience who loved the juicy conflict in Virginia Woolf or the humorous satire of The Graduate, Nichols keeps it subtle and sober in examining the girl-chasing antics of two best friends (, Jack Nicholson) who both date Candice Bergen in college, one hopelessly in love with her and the other caddishly bedding her on the side. Years later Garfunkel is married and Nicholson carries on with aging sex kitten Ann-Margret, which devolves into bitterness as she longs to be his proper wife while Garfunkel begins to have a wandering eye from his own spouse. Jules Feiffer’s script is a wholly unpleasant affair as it does not alleviate its harsher dramatic moments with any kind of pat-happy insight, instead pointing directly at the ways that these modern men abuse the free love era as an excuse to use women for whatever purposes they need, then refuse to take responsibility for the results to their own lives.  The film won’t be for everyone, but the gorgeously stark colours by Giuseppe Rotunno and superb acting make it well worth watching. Bergen is impressively vibrant on camera, always astute at handling manipulative men but still maintaining vulnerability, while a rock-solid Ann-Margret is terrific at the fragility that leads her into a destructive situation but also gains her some moments of steady, frozen-gaze awareness. It puts a dark mood on you that you do not shake off easily, so be prepared.

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