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Review: Le Amiche

4.0

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Le Amiche
Photo: The Film Desk

The band Joy Division once recorded a song called “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” They may as well have been speaking of Le Amiche, among the most entrancing views of love’s sweet devastation that the movies have ever seen. The film unfolds in a bourgeois Turin of sharp angles, harsh, clear light, endless looks, and poses, with people urging each other to connect but unable to do so themselves. They are constantly separated by buildings, doorways, the paintings on the walls, the clothes on their skin.

The physical distance becomes emotional distance. A man talks to a woman busy regarding herself in a mirror, both their backs to us, her face’s reflection apparent but the face itself unseen. In the deep-focused hallways the couples walk through (captured gleamingly, sheeningly well in the Cinemateca Bologna’s new, restored 35mm print), everything seems visible but very little is actually known. The poet T.S. Eliot, so keen on evoking l’amour‘s wasteland, might not have described it better. The men—hunched-over, failed Prince Hamlets—push their meaty mouths forward for kisses; the women kiss back, and then break away. “We can’t do without other people,” one woman says, “It’s no use deceiving yourself,” and then tries to anyway. Even the well-wishers smother. When a group of concerned friends discuss a troubled member, they do so in front of her portrait, blocking it from sight.

They’re the amiche (girlfriends) of this elusive movie, which is perhaps best understood through a series of frames. The film is based on a Cesare Pavese novel, Among Women Only, with which it cursorily shares a plot: A young woman tries and fails to kill herself and, in the struggle to understand her motives, her friends confront their own unhappiness. The movie changes much of the book’s storyline (ciao, lesbian love affair), but its biggest change is perspective. The book’s first-person narrator, Clelia, observes the world darkly, dropping bon mots along the way (“When you make love, you take off your mask. That’s when you’re naked”); the movie, by contrast, blows up to tell all five women’s stories, preferring the long shot to any character’s point of view. Psychology emerges from landscape rather than from an individual perspective. An example lies in the film’s most famous scene, a beach-bound picnic where one couple steals away from the group. Framed between a giant black bush and an insistent ocean, the lovers look small and furtive; a woman comes to kick at them immediately after they start kissing, to which the man leaps up and says that they were just playing around.

The people are characters as much as the waves, dresses, paintings, train whistles, and high heels clacking against stone are—all figures in a moving landscape, objects soon to collide. This is usual for the work of director Michelangelo Antonioni, who would later end 1962’s The Eclipse with seven minutes of street lamps, crosswalks, and waterlogged barrels rather than movie stars Alain Delon and Monica Vitti; by the time of 1969’s Zabriskie Point, the blocks of wood called actors were all but irrelevant in the face of Death Valley. Antonioni was fascinated by peoples’ attempts to fit themselves into a mechanized modern world, and in tracking them revealed that the world was made up of animate, dynamic parts, people included. And if objects have secret lives, then people also must, lives secret even to them. Antonioni claimed of his 1961 film La Notte that “the characters this time find themselves, but they have trouble in communicating because they have discovered that the truth is difficult”; he might have gone further and said that people are always and essentially alone. One of Le Amiche‘s male lovers is an architect, another a painter. Just as any work of art is made up of separate material pieces, so, too, do human consciousnesses stay isolated, even within the deepest emotional bonds. “Every human being,” Antonioni also once said, “represents a world.” (Several critics have linked Antonioni’s view of human psychology to that of the novelist Henry James; one might think in particular of a novel like The Golden Bowl, where motives are suggested through objects and vice-versa.)

Antonioni was far from his most radical materialism when he made Le Amiche, though. He was still shifting away from another materialist movement: neorealism. The Italian crop of films that grew after WWII, on many of which Antonioni served as an assistant, often used untrained performers, location shooting, and improvised moments that aimed for a more authentic emotional reality. Their stories also often followed poor people through harsh political and economic climates as they hurt themselves and each other not for sentimental reasons, but out of a basic will to survive. Critic Andrew Sarris later argued that neorealist films oversimplified reality by comparing The Bicycle Thief, the film that won neorealism international attention, with the more pedigreed French melodrama The Earrings of Madame de…; while The Bicycle Thief‘s characters might have better lives with more money, Sarris claimed, Madame de…‘s miserable socialites “lack nothing and lose everything.”

Sarris was himself oversimplifying (The Bicycle Thief‘s characters have both free agency and deeper problems than money can solve), but the class distinction he made applies to the split in Antonioni’s filmmaking career. Antonioni, a wealthy former tennis star from Ferrara, began as a documentarian with a chronicle of the rural poor of the Po Valley, but after 11 documentaries shifted to fiction films about the middle class and the rich. “It’s no longer important to make a film about a man whose bicycle is stolen,” he claimed; rather, he desired “to depict neorealism within the individual,” a goal he thought could be more easily achieved by following people who had the time and money to complicate their interior lives. It’s difficult to think about love when you’re starving.

Neorealist films like Open City, Ossessione, and Shoeshine make a pretense of happening organically, the scenes permitting whatever natural light and action enter; by contrast, the psychological realism of Le Amiche, Antonioni’s fifth fiction film and by far his most controlled to that point, feels moment-to-moment perfectly composed. Critic Eugene Youngblood has rightly claimed (in a brilliant commentary track on the Criterion DVD for Antonioni’s L’Avventura) that many of the director’s images aren’t metaphoric so much as metonymic; they advance the story both figuratively and literally at once. A Le Amiche scene shows Clelia (Eleonora Rossi-Drago) and Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer) fretting nervously inside a cramped train car, then cheering up as they step out.

Yet, at the same time, Le Amiche is a documentary, in the sense that the movie is a literal recording of people interacting with the world. Antonioni claimed that his first filmmaking experience was an attempt to record patients at an insane asylum, during which their instinctive reactions proved most intriguing to him. By the early ‘60s he was explicitly arguing that every film was a record of its making, and that the line between fiction and documentary bordered on irrelevant (a belief, incidentally, that he shared with Jean-Luc Godard). The thought’s a reversal from neorealist principles; instead of fiction that feels like documentary, Le Amiche is documentary that looks like fiction. The more one knows about the film’s making, the truer this becomes: Rosetta, the film’s least assured character, is played by its most nervous, uncertain, and self-conscious actress, who Antonioni discovered in a magazine photo two days before shooting began. As in many of his other films, both earlier (Story of a Love Affair, his first fiction feature) and later (L’Avventura, his most famous; Blowup, his most blatant, a photography-centered story that argues, quite literally, that reality is determined by the viewer), he even teases audiences with conventional fictional genre trappings that he then confounds. An Antonioni film will frequently pose a riddle, and then never answer it; here the mystery of why Rosetta tries to kill herself becomes a pretense for the rest of the film. A stereotypical neorealist film might show Rosetta’s attempts and blame physical circumstances, while Antonioni leaves them off screen, and clams shut on the cause.

A traditional melodrama might blame her despair totally and completely on love, but here love doesn’t doom Rosetta so much as fail to save her. Concerned with aesthetics as the film is, her absence, and the empty space it leaves in the film, is much more important than its reason. (Many of Antonioni’s films feature suicides—the movie he made directly before Le Amiche, a series of interviews with would-be self-murderers, was even called Suicide Attempt. As he continued making films, though, the reasons behind peoples’ vanishings became less important to him, to the point where characters disappear in his later movies without any explanation at all.) The standard film genre Le Amiche most superficially resembles—and spiritually opposes—is in fact the melodrama, specifically the women’s film. George Cukor’s The Women shows an all-star, all-female cast pining for and fighting over off-screen men for 133 minutes. The sick joke of a movie is one of the more extreme examples of what Philip Rosen has called classical Hollywood’s “obligatory heterosexual closure,” where every woman from Jean Harlow to Jean Arthur is supported and affirmed by the love of a good man or, failing that, sacrifices herself for the sake of her kids.

No such comfort exists for these girlfriends, unmarried and childless. Youngblood has said that “In Antonioni’s films, a woman can be seen as autonomous for the first time in the history of cinema.” The statement seems hyperbolic, and probably is; that said, Antonioni’s is the only case that comes to mind where an artist’s objectification of women is neither pejorative nor diminishing. Le Amiche, among its many other virtues, is the strongest example of how Antonioni depicts women as freestanding, relating to men and to each other without (for the most part) a subordinate clause. The most important role he assigns each of them is as a figure in the larger world.

Yet the independence he gives his women comes with a price, for to be freestanding means to live without the comforting myth of locking into love. In August Strindberg’s great play Creditors, a man sees a couple and murmurs, “She really does love him. Poor woman”; in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night one character frets over a potential paramour, “Poor lady, she were better love a dream.” Love is indeed a dream: A dream that another person can make us whole, fix our damaged spots, and above all, support us. To live without that support is to live without love.

In Le Amiche, the dream turns to nightmare, as a man asks a woman, “Why do you still love me?” and learns, “Perhaps because you make me suffer so” (note the “perhaps”). The film’s gorgeous images show, over and over, how human contact brings only momentary, transitory, mutable comfort, and how one of life’s greatest dangers lies in thinking that it brings anything more. Rosetta walks through the world dazed and numb till human voices wake her and then she, clinging to them, drowns; Clelia, like Virginia Woolf’s modernist feminist heroine Clarissa Dalloway, gains her own life by observing another’s loss, leaving love with a lovely image of a single parting train.

Le Amiche remains exciting, though, largely because of how unsettled it feels. Antonioni had told an interviewer in December 1950 that “I don’t yet know if I have a style, or if I’ll get one.” Stunning as many of his later films are (and Red Desert, his first color film, will come out on a Criterion DVD June 22 as evidence), they also often feel preordained and settled, their ideology especially so. At a 1960 Cannes Film Festival press conference for L’Avventura, Antonioni declared, “Eros is sick.” The statement certainly pertains to the film he made five years earlier. Unlike the bored, blank faces he used subsequently, though, the people in Le Amiche seem restlessly, agitatedly, literally and figuratively movingly hold out hope that Eros can be cured, or at the very least, that their small version can get well.

In this way, Le Amiche resembles Roberto Rossellini’s film Voyage to Italy, released two years earlier (perhaps fitting, since Antonioni helped write one of Rossellini’s first films). Voyage to Italy depicts an English wife and husband who realize once abroad that they no longer love each other. Shifting from neorealism himself, Rossellini shows the two competing for attention with the physical world around them, occasionally spiked with surprise by a statue’s wide eyes, an endless row of skulls, or a live child. Antonioni’s world could not have happened without Rossellini’s masterpiece: The thought of a couple as essentially distant, isolated by landscape, icons, history, and the very fact of themselves.

In Rossellini’s film, though, the couple unites by miracle; Antonioni’s film, struggling, finally separates couples, and then spreads them further apart, in longer and slower and more static takes, as the director’s career ensues. Le Amiche is Antonioni’s Nights of Cabiria, his Solaris, his Breaking the Waves, his La Chinoise, and his Voyage to Italy: A key transitional film where, beneath an artist’s emerging new aesthetic, a heart not just beats but screams.

Cast: Eleonora Rossi-Drago, Yvonne Furneaux, Valentina Cortese, Anna Maria Pancani, Franco Fabrizi, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ettore Manni, Madeleine Fischer Director: Michelangelo Antonioni Screenwriter: Michelangelo Antonioni, Suso Cecchi D'Amico Distributor: The Film Desk Running Time: 104 min Rating: NR Year: 1955 Buy: Video

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Features

Top 10 Stephen King Movies, Ranked

We’ve compiled the best feature-length adaptations of King’s work, excluding the mostly mediocre TV adaptations.

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Misery
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Stephen King is one of the most influential of all contemporary writers, an artist who followed Richard Matheson’s example in wedding irrational horror with the surreal minutiae of everyday American life. The most distinctive elements of King’s remarkably vast bibliography—his exacting and uncanny empathy for working-class people and his loose, pop-culture-strewn prose—are rarely accounted for in the dozens of films that have been made from his novels and stories, which often predictably emphasize his propulsive plotting. Consequently, these adaptations often resemble routine genre films with a smattering of King’s dialogue, which sounds better on the page than when performed by often self-conscious actors who look as if they’d rather be anywhere than trapesing around a simulation of King’s beloved Maine. But a number of excellent films have been made from the author’s writing, either by doubling down on the neurotic naïveté of the author’s Americana or by striking new ground, recognizing that a good film needs to be a movie, rather than a literal-minded act of CliffsNotes-style embalming. To commemorate the recent release of Cell, we’ve compiled the 10 best feature-length adaptations of King’s work, excluding the countless, mostly mediocre TV adaptations.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 8, 2015.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

10. Stand by Me (1986)

Those who accuse Stand by Me of indulging shameless boomer nostalgia are missing the point, as that’s precisely what the film is about. Director Rob Reiner dials down the violent hopelessness of King’s source material (the novella The Body), but still emphasizes the cruelty and loneliness that mark four boys’ coming-of-age odyssey to see the corpse of a young man nearly their age. The film is framed as one of the grown boy’s remembrances, as he attempts to spin his unreconciled feelings into the more tangible stuff of…coming-of-age fiction. At times it’s hokey, and, yes, the soundtrack does some major emotional heavy lifting, but the feast of excellent acting compensates greatly, particularly by Wil Wheaton, Kiefer Sutherland, and River Phoenix. Stand by Me remains one of the best adaptations of King’s more sentimental non-horror writing, and it’s far superior to preachy, insidiously insulting staples like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

9. Creepshow (1982)

Still one of the great comic-book movies in that it approximates the actual tactile act of reading and flipping through a magazine, ideally on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a can of soda by your side. George Romero directed from King’s original script, which pays homage to EC comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, and the filmmaker displays a visual confidence and tonal flexibility that’s reminiscent of his Dawn of the Dead. The bright, deep, and garish cinematography is both beautiful and disturbing, enriching King’s gleefully vicious writing while providing a framework for the lively performances of a game, celebrity-rich cast. The film straddles an ideal line between straight-faced seriousness and parody, particularly in the unnerving climax of a story in which we can hear the pained gurgling of aquatic zombies.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

8. Silver Bullet (1985)

A creepy drive-in horror movie that throws a werewolf into a boy’s sentimental coming-of-age tale. Based on King’s slim Cycle of the Werewolf, which was released with gorgeous illustrations by artist Bernie Wrightson, Silver Bullet weds evocative imagery with spare plotting that allows each scene to breathe, giving the film an nightmarish free-associative energy. There are several boffo sequences, particularly when the werewolf seizes a man’s baseball bat, his paw shown to be beating the man to death from below thick fog, or when the wolf is outsmarted by the protagonist, one of his eyes blown to pieces by a bottle rocket. Speaking of the monster, the movie has one of the great wolf designs, which suggests a huge, bitter, upstanding bear with a terrifying snout. The human identity of the creature is a great, characteristically blasphemous King twist.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

7. Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Five years after her career-making performance in Misery, Kathy Bates returned to Stephen King territory with Dolores Claiborne, which, like the book, disappointed nearly everyone for not being a typical horror story, instead combining the traditions of martyred-woman melodrama with gothic mystery. Critics, who only seem capable of praising melodrama when it’s directed by one of their pre-approved canon placeholders (like Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk), also turned their noses up at Dolores Claiborne, and it’s a real shame. Both the novel and the film get at the heart of King’s preoccupations with sexism and classicism, spinning a fractured narrative of a mother, her daughter, the man who nearly ruined their lives, and the all-encompassing pitilessness of aging. Yes, the film is behaviorally broad, but this broadness is utilized by the reliably underrated director, Taylor Hackford, as a form of catharsis. And Bates’s performance as the titular character is positively poetic. Her delivery of a monologue about Dolores’s work routine particularly locate the weird, qualified dignity of thanklessness, reveling in the pride and transcendence that can be wrestled from menial-ness. Perhaps more than any other film on this list, Dolores Claiborne has the feel of King’s voice.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

6. Misery (1990)

No one performs King’s dialogue like Kathy Bates. She embraces and owns the moving cuckoo logic of his best orations, understanding that they’re almost always rooted in class anxiety. The most disturbing quality of Misery, both the novel and the film, is the fact that we relate to Annie Wilkes, psychotic “number one fan” of author Paul Sheldon (superbly played in the film by James Caan), more than we do her victims. Bates is so intimately in tune with Annie that we feel for her when she fails to impress Paul, somehow temporarily forgetting that she’s holding him hostage and torturing him. Annie is yet another of King’s unleashed nerds, a repressed soul seeking actualization, but she isn’t sentimentalized, instead embodying the ferocious self-absorption that fuels obsession, leading to estrangement. Director Rob Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman regrettably trim King’s most ambitiously subjective material, but they compensate by focusing pronouncedly on the cracked love story at the narrative’s center.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

5. Christine (1983)

John Carpenter is an ideal director for this story of a haunted 1958 Plymouth Fury that possesses its newest teenaged buyer, leading to a supernatural revenge-of-the-nerds scenario that was already a trademark of King’s writing by this point. A master of composition, Carpenter emphasizes the car’s unerring verticality and horizontality, contrasting these antique dimensions, and the American prosperity they symbolize, with the general hopelessness of the 1980s. A chillier artist than King, Carpenter dries the narrative of its overheated dimensions, which paradoxically brings the tragedy of the people that Christine ruins into starker focus. One wishes that Carpenter had attempted to stage a few of King’s crazier flourishes (such as Christine’s chilling methods of disposing of her victims), but this is nevertheless a sleekly atmospheric, disturbing, and generally overlooked entry in Carpenter’s canon.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

4. The Dead Zone (1983)

David Cronenberg’s adaptation of one of King’s best novels displays a working philosophy that will characterize the filmmaker’s future interpretations of “difficult” books by William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, and Don DeLillo: He finds the thematic center of the source material, pruning or changing whatever’s necessary to heighten it. In this case, Cronenberg softens King’s kink and gore, honing the narrative to entirely reflect the yearning for “normalcy” that hounds Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) as a car accident and prolonged coma transform him from a meek, gawky schoolteacher into a tormented, decidedly Walken-esque eccentric who resembles a rock star and proceeds to alter people’s futures. Walken’s playing a classic Cronenberg protagonist: a gifted, temporarily empowered man who’s altered in a fashion that allows him to wrestle, tragically, with the differences between his internal and external selves. There’s a memorably lonely, unsettling image of a long, gray tunnel that encapsulates Johnny’s straddling of two worlds: the conventional world, and the “dead zone” that he accesses when calling on his new power.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

3. The Shining (1980)

The most hotly debated of King film adaptations, and, as in most debates, all sides are partially right. Yes, the famously grouchy author is correct in asserting that director Stanley Kubrick nulled the tragedy fueling the novel, portraying the film’s protagonist as someone who’s callous and crazy before they’ve even set foot in the haunted Colorado hotel forebodingly located somewhere in the wintery mountains. And, yes, the film is distractingly misogynistic, showing at best an obligatory amount of sympathy for the imperiled woman at its center. Yet, these qualities are precisely, in part, why Kubrick’s The Shining is so fascinating. The director admires the simplicity of King’s pulp setup, but distrusts the author’s sense of humanity and autobiographical feelings of collusion with the family; instead, Kubrick’s attempting a purely primal rendering of the ageless cruelty that resides deep underneath all horror. Kubrick fashions a brilliant formal object, a cynically existential horror companion to his 2001, suggesting what might have happened if Alain Resnais had directed The Haunting. And, yes, Kubrick’s hedge maze is scarier than King’s hedge animals.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

2. Cujo (1983)

Lewis Teague’s gallingly underrated adaptation of an equally underrated novel embraces the unwavering, visceral brutality of King’s writing in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. The book’s central conceit—of a rabid Saint Bernard as a metaphor for unchecked addiction—is softened by narrative trimming, but the chaos, violation, and sheer velocity of King’s vision are still allowed to break through. Teague beautifully builds to the carnage, allowing us to feel sympathy for Cujo even as he devolves into a monster, emphasizing the heavy heat of the dog’s body as it grows deranged by disease, and, later, the piercing sun as it bakes a mother and son trapped by Cujo in their broken-down car. That car is a significant touch: King’s interest in addiction may be dulled here, but his understanding of the apocalyptic fear gripping those with money problems is accorded full prominence. As Cujo’s prospective victims, Dee Wallace Stone and Danny Pintauro give performances of such naked, panicked urgency that the viewer feels as if they’re eavesdropping on something privileged and primordially awful. This is the film that Mary Lambert’s misbegotten Pet Semetary wanted to be.


Ranked: The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies

1. Carrie (1976)

The first and still greatest Stephen King adaptation is as much an announcement for director Brian De Palma as it is for King, and the artists complement one another throughout Carrie. Unlike many filmmakers, De Palma doesn’t shy away from King’s propensity for melodrama; he embraces it, finding his own footing as a formally sophisticated horror trickster in the process. Carrie was King’s first novel, and it’s structurally awkward though driven by an emotional force that would define his writing. It’s this force that De Palma keys in on, smoothing out the narrative wrinkles, deepening the ironies and characterizations, fashioning a horror opera out of alienation and estrangement, revealing an elaborate high school caste system that’s finally punished for its unwavering cruelty. One of the best and most poignant of all horror films, with astonishingly big and heartbreaking performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing

If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt.

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First Man
Photo: Universal Pictures

If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt, because we’d much rather give birth in a tub while surrounded by murderous blind creatures than have to once again write our predictions for the sound categories. As adamant as we’ve been that the Academy owes it to the nominees to air every category, which they agreed to after an extended “just kidding,” it might have given us pause had the sound categories been among the four demoted by Oscar. But no, we must now endure our annual bout of penance, aware of the fact that actually knowing what the difference is between sound editing and sound mixing is almost a liability. In other words, we’ve talked ourselves out of correct guesses too many times, doubled down on the same movie taking both categories to hedge our bets too many times, and watched as the two categories split in the opposite way we expected too many times. So, as in A Quiet Place, the less said, the better. And while that film’s soundscapes are as unique and noisy as this category seems to prefer, First Man’s real-word gravitas and cacophonous Agena spin sequence should prevail.

Will Win: First Man

Could Win: A Quiet Place

Should Win: First Man

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Film

Review: The Changeover Enjoyably Pinballs Between Disparate Fantasy Styles

If, in the end, the film’s narrative fails to cohere, the journey getting there is at least enjoyably swift-paced.

2.5

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The Changeover
Photo: Vertical Entertainment

Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie’s The Changeover is an unusual and mostly enjoyable hybrid of disparate fantasy styles. Based on the 1984 young adult novel by Margaret Mahy, the film suggests a superhero origin story, developing a convoluted internal mythology involving a coven of benevolent witches, an evil vampiric “larva” who sucks the youthful vitality out of young children, and a “sensitive” schoolgirl, Laura (Erana James), who receives psychic premonitions of future harm. When the larva, Carmody (Timothy Spall), picks Laura’s kid brother (Benji Purchase) as his next victim, it’s up to her to save him.

It can be a little difficult to keep the story’s mythos straight, particularly when, in its final third, the film launches into a lengthy Inception-style action sequence that takes place entirely in a dream realm. By the time the credits roll, it’s not entirely clear what just happened, and exactly why. McKenzie’s script has to resort to voiceover narration—present only in the very beginning and end of the film—to fill in some of the gaps, and even then, not every piece of the puzzle seems to fit together. This makes for an ultimately somewhat confusing and unsatisfying viewing experience, at least for anyone who’s never read Mahy’s supernatural teen romance. But sometimes it’s better to feel a little lost than to know too much: The film confidently powers ahead without feeling the need, as so many fantasy stories do, to halt the momentum every reel or two to offer a dull exposition dump.

As directors, Harcourt and McKenzie eschew the soporific melancholia of teen fantasy films like Twilight in favor of a lithe, angular visual approach—including impressionistic close-ups and skittering, almost Michael Mann-ish handheld shots—that grounds the story’s supernatural goings-on in a sense of reality without draining them of their fantastical charm. Spall strikes a similarly appealing balance between plausibility and outright camp, digging into his villainous role with teeth-gnashing glee. Pitched somewhere between a deranged hobo and Mr. Dark from Something Wicked This Way Comes, his performance provides a fun yet menacing foil to James’s haunted, obsessive turn as Laura.

Even when the specific details of the film’s plot may seem silly or confused, Laura remains credible and compelling. It’s this carefully managed equilibrium between the inherent preposterousness of its mystical milieu and the convincing emotional reality of Laura’s journey that ultimately makes The Changeover, for all its muddled mythos, a lively and engaging excursion into an unusually naturalistic world of magic.

Cast: Timothy Spall, Melanie Lynskey, Lucy Lawless, Nicholas Galitzine, Erana James, Kate Harcourt, Benji Purchase, Ella Edward, Thomasin McKenzie, Claire Van Beek Director: Miranda Harcourt, Stuart McKenzie Screenwriter: Stuart McKenzie Distributor: Vertical Entertainment Running Time: 95 min Buy: Book

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