The Comfort of Strangers - Paul Schrader - 1990
One of the more intriguing films of the 1990's and certainly one of Paul Schrader's finest films is The Comfort of Strangers. Based on an Ian McEwan novel and adapted for the screen by Harold Pinter it is about a young couple played by Miranda Richarson and Rupert Everett vacationing in Venice Italy who get caught in a very odd web of dark desires with an older Venitian couple played by Christopher Walken and Hellen Mirren.
At times the film recalls Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice crossed with something by David Lynch. Especially with it's mysterious atmosphere, underlying black humor and use of sexuality. At the heart of the film is Walken's role, which is certainly one of his finest, as a character who has a particularly old [masculine] world view that borders on charming and dangerous. He regales the couple with stories of his father, a man who seems to have been the embodiment of imperialism and fascism.
As the story unwinds it becomes evident that the couple are working through a rough patch in their relationship. But, after their first couple of encounters with Venetian couple, they begin to grow closer together. Yet as they get sucked into the deviant web it seems that the survival of their relationship is the least of their worries.
The cinematography by Dante Spinotti really deserves a special notice. The film showcases beautiful lighting along with lengthy, smooth, slow tracking shots that - coupled with the Badalamenti's score - add to the creepy milieu as the film moves along to an ending that is both inevitable and shocking.
So how does a film this good with such names as McEwan, Pinter, Walken, Mirren, Badalamenti, Spinotti, et al. stay relatively unknown 20 years after it was made? I have no idea. It could be because MGM owns the rights and they have no desire to release it on DVD. Or it could be because it is an unconventional and too dark. But I will say some day when there is a retrospective of Paul Schrader's work this is the film that - I think - will make people reevaluate Schrader's work as they wonder why they had never heard of it. It is not available on DVD in Region 1 but you can buy it for under $10.00 from Amazon UK.