I always yearned to find an appropriate occasion to use the phrase “luxe et volupte” and after seeing The Phantom Thread, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, I have found it. From the scene of a chiseled, sleek Daniel Day Lewis performing his morning ablutions and carefully dressing himself, to the extraordinary mise en scene of his homes, his staff, his elegant sister, his breakfast menu and finally, his exquisite couture, we are in a world of voluptuous beauty As Reynolds Woodcock, the celebrated go-to dress designer for royalty and the super-rich, Lewis’ movements are disciplined and exact His female staff are all attired in white coats and their workspace is as sanitized as a hospital, their stitching as precise as a surgeon’s. Plot develops when Woodcock goes to his country house, stopping to eat and finding himself engaged by the young waitress serving him. Alma is fresh-faced and reticent, a far cry from the world of high fashion, but strangely, he is entranced by her and in short order, invites her to live in his house and work as his model and muse.
Alma is a cipher about whom we know very little but we see her rise to his expectations and do her best to adjust to his bi-polar moods and demands. He is an artist - a man accustomed to having everyone around him yield to his every whim - a narcissist who can be mean-spirited and abusive. He is also handsome, dashing, creative, reckless in his driving but exacting in his beautiful designs and their execution. Alma watches quietly in a mostly compliant manner until we see a sudden change in her when she introduces herself to the Belgian princess who has come for a wedding dress. She says simply “My name is Alma - I live here” and we understand that she has begun to assert herself and feel the legitimacy of her own needs and desires. The more she demands recognition, the more resistance she gets from Woodcock who has always been the sole ruler of his roost.
At one point, after an argument, Woodcock falls ill and Alma takes care of him gently but with great authority. She counters the will of his sister and eventually succeeds in nursing him back to health, reversing their roles of dependency in a very significant way To say more about the plot would be a spoiler but this is a movie that should be seen for the dynamic performances by its three stars, its psychological insights, its understanding of the parameters of art and emotion, its beautiful cinematography and enveloping score blending classical and popular music of the 50’s to match the romanticism of the subject. The phantom thread refers to a secrret message sewn into the lining of each dress, much as the innermost secrets of people’s needs and illusions are not easily seen or deciphered yet remain intrinsic to their core. How eccentrically these get balanced between two very unusual people is the fulcrum for this stunning and momentous film. Best one of 2017
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