Joseph Losey, UK, 1967
This is my kind of film. In many ways nothing really happens…on the surface. It’s hardly an action-packed plot, with many scenes set in a cosy old library or outdoors in a perfect English summer (of a certain place and a certain class): a nice game of cricket, tea and scones on the lawn, lazy punting on the river, walks in country fields with wildflowers and hedges. Totally lovely.
But there’s so much going on within our characters and between them. So many meaningful looks, cryptic dialogue. Dark immorality behind the social respectability. Who’s shagging who. Who wants to shag who. Power plays, lies, and selfish drives. The screenplay was written by playwright Harold Pinter, so it’s a high-quality, many-levelled drama.
Stylistically, it’s very, very Antonioni. It reminded me of Blow Up, or maybe it’s just because it was made around the same time. Lots of interesting camerawork, as well as long quiet shots, or framing a shot off centre. And I could easily imagine Marcello Mastroianni/Monica Vitti/Jeanne Moreau/Vanessa Redgrave strolling across the university quadrangle (it’s set at Oxford University – a quaint world of cummerbunds and rugger).
Losey was an American in exile*, who ended up in Britain to avoid the McCarthy-era persecution of communist sympathisers (or basically all artistic left-wingers). He also made cult horror (and Magic Lantern Film Club favourite) These Are The Damned, which you should definitely check out if you’ve not seen it, and The Servant (again by Harold Pinter and with Dirk Bogarde). Filmin has a load of Losey’s films. I might have to do myself a season…
*There’s an in-joke in a quiet little scene where the professors are reading and smoking together in the library:
PROF 1 (reading from the paper): “A statistical analysis of sexual intercourse among students at Calenzo University, Milwaukee, showed that 70% did it in the evening, 29.9% between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, and 0.1% during a lecture on Aristotle.”
PROF 2 (after a pause, deadpan face): “I was surprised to hear that Aristotle is on the syllabus in the state of Wisconsin.”
Losey was from Wisconsin and studied philosopy.