These beautiful sunglasses! Suddenly, these are sunglasses I want for summer. I’m also having an obsession over the bracelet Colette is wearing in the top photo, and during the entire film. She has found it at an antiques market in Athens, it is shaped into a symbol of immortality and it plays a key role in the film.
Last week I went to see The Two Faces of January. I was curious to see another adaptation of a novel by Patricia Highsmith and I also had a keen interest in the costumes. I liked the atmosphere of the movie – it’s the underlying tension and again that contrast between the dark plot and the most picturesque, golden-hued and dreamy backdrop, Greece and its islands this time (credit is much due to Alberto Iglesias’s music and Marcel Zyskind’s camera) – and the clothes were beautiful. It is a film in which costumes have some very important roles to play. As costume designer Steven Noble said, the outfits worn by the three leading actors, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst (as glamorous and wealthy American couple Chester and Colette MacFarland) and Oscar Isaac (Rydal, the Greek-speaking American tour guide, a drifter and small-time hustler, who ends up entangled in the couple’s lives) “must both parallel and help explain a drama of ever-shifting emotional dynamics”.
What I loved the most about the costumes is that they feel authentic, but without being constrained to the visual aspect of the ’60s (when the story takes place). The clothes were interpreted so that they had a vintage flare, while looking undeniably modern. Everything is simplified and understated and that’s why these outfits could easily be worn today without the risk of looking dated. And I think this is the approach I favour when it comes to new films set a few decades ago. The costume designer explains that he wanted “to keep it minimal, contemporary, and chic”, advancing that only when historical ties are loosened can viewers of today (or tomorrow) begin to identify with the characters on the screen. I agree.
Viggo Mortensen shows us which are the accessories a man should limit himself to: watch, sunglasses and wedding ring (if that is the case).
Viggo Mortensen’s linen suit, immaculate in the beginning, will closely follow the character’s arc. As Viggo was telling British GQ, his character turns out to be a conman, but at first he and his wife, Colette, “appear to be this perfect Gatsby-esque American couple reclining in the sunshine”. The film The Great Gatsby was in fact one of the costume designer’s sources of inspiration. “I liked that suit because it’s a great suit. It’s an additional character in the story. It has its own transformation. By the time we get to the end of the movie the suit has its wrinkles, it’s a little torn, a little soiled and it ends up in the dark and rain in Istanbul”, Mortensen further explains.
The sheath dresses Kirsten is wearing are all beautiful and the accessories she matches them to make them all the more so: those fabulous sunglasses, elegant straw hats, head scarves, flat sandals. “The silhouette I went for was a figure-hugging pencil line to give her that wiggle when she walks, that sexiness,” says the costume designer. Most of the wardrobe in the film, many of which sand and blue-hued, was custom-made, especially Colette’s costumes. The designer created three and four versions of the same dress to allow for damage during filming, but for the lemon dress shown above, which didn’t have a double. Noble “went to look at the light, the colour of the stone and the views before I designed the dress”. The effort paid off: the dress blends in with the landscape perfectly, and matched with Chester’s linen suit, it intelligently establishes the appearances of the characters. Looks were still important in the ’60s, and people would always try to look good, regardless of their social class, profession, personal troubles. I think the film clearly establishes this, too, as it unfolds.
Kirsten Dunst said that Noble is “very good at making it not look costumey. It’s a marriage between the costume designer and the actor getting it right together, because you know things about your body that they might not know right away, or colours that might look better. I love doing period films, I really do. It’s just so much prettier! Especially in this movie, I feel like the wardrobe helped shape the character.” She adds that “it feels like an old postcard at times, but it still feels fresh”. The costume designer agrees on the importance of the actors’, as well as the director’s, input when it comes to the characters’ clothes.
Steven Noble reveals as sources of inspiration “films like La dolce vita, Plein soleil, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, À bout de souffle and many other iconic films of the decade”. He also mentions Highsmith’s book as perfectly describing Colette and her silhouette. “Also, original ciné films of tourists on holiday and original fashion magazines of the era such as Vogue. Jean Seberg and Alain Delon were an inspiration. The designers I took inspiration from were Dior, Chanel, Nina Ricci, Lanvin, Pucci to name but a few. The clothes for the three main characters were all bespoke and the remaining 3,000 cast were a mixture of bespoke and vintage – either bought or hired from costume houses. A selection also came from my own personal studio collection.”
Viggo Mortensen certainly wears a suit well. Here, looking dapper in a navy suit, white shirt and striped tie. Everything looks pristine, the calm before the storm.
I think all three leading actors give strong performances, which really live up to their stylish costumes – it’s inevitable to make this association, because this is a visually beautiful film. I would have liked the plot to be developed further and to have a less predictable ending, but the director, Hossein Amini, at his first feature film, has chosen to focus on the characters and on the psychological factor, and he does a pretty good job at that. And just knowing that among Hossein Amini’s key movie influences were films like L’Avventura, North by Northwest, Knife in the Water (we wrote about them all here, on Classiq, as well as on the few others mentioned above), this should make it even more interesting to watch.
bibliography and photo credit: The Telegraph, British GQ and Vogue.co.uk