M.R. James’ ghost stories. A Christmas Carol. Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester. A particular moment from Paul Thomas Anderson’s personal life when he was sick in bed and his wife was taking care of him, and his imagination just took over: “Oh, she is looking at me with such care and tenderness… wouldn’t it suit her to keep me sick in this state?” These were all sources of inspiration for Anderson’s Phantom Thread, which he wrote, directed and shot himself. He mentioned all these influences in his interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air and I happened to listen to the podcast before watching the film (it just arrived in our cinema last week). I usually don’t like to read reviews or interviews about films I haven’t yet seen, but I am glad I did this time. I could sense those influences subtly woven into the story, without playing down the element of surprise.
This is a film created out of sheer love of cinema and storytelling. In a time when there is so much pressure to make socially- or politically-charged movies, it feels truly wonderful to watch a great film that captures your imagination, that captures your interest through its own story and through its characters alone, without any ulterior motives or messages. I admire Paul Thomas Anderson for keeping it in the artistic field.
Phantom Thread is a classic, it is beautiful to look at, absorbing, thrilling, mysterious, a little dark, with a Hitchcockian vibe but retaining its own originality, with touches of humour and black humour. It’s about dedication, perfectionism, love, co-dependency, obsession. It makes you keep asking questions and the answers it does provide (because it does not answer all the questions it raises and that’s part of its fascinating beauty) take you by surprise. And those final moments and lines are the kind of open ending that so often make a film great. Because everyone interprets it in its own way.
Anderson also mentions Cristóbal Balenciaga as one of the starting points, the greatest couturier of all times in my opinion. According to costume designer Mark Bridges, everyone involved in the production read the book “The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, His World” (I wrote about it here) in preparation for the project. I am not surprised that Balenciaga influenced the character of Reynolds Woodcock. Even before watching the film and listening to the interview, the movie stills of Daniel Day-Lewis (as Woodcock) released to the press clearly reminded me of Balenciaga at work.
Reynolds Woodcock is a couturier in 1950s London. Woodcock lives for his craft (Paul Thomas Anderson wanted to make a film about the most obsessive of artists, the fashion designer, in his own words) and Daniel Day-Lewis has become Reynolds Woodcock, immersing himself into the role – he is known to go to extreme lengths when preparing for a role – and giving one of his best performances. Could it be possible that this actor’s finesse and craft have yet again reached new heights? I simply wish he doesn’t retire, as he announced he would after this film. Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville give winning performances, too. The way the stillness and looks of all these three actors speak more than words can is something incredible to watch.
photos: film stills | Annapurna Pictures