Obsession (Brian De Palma / U.S., 1976):

The fable begins at the end ("And they lived happily ever after," reads the slideshow after the opening titles), and promptly settles matters with Hitchcock. New Orleans on the cusp of the Sixties sets the stage for the first movement, a marital anniversary interrupted by a kidnapping shatters the contemplative real-estate developer (Cliff Robertson), "the cream of the new South." A decade and a half pass and it's off to Florence, where the late wife (Geneviève Bujold) turns up in the form of a young doppelgänger, a lively lass hard at work on repairing Renaissance frescoes. Replicas within replicas and dreams within dreams, the Brian De Palma position: "Beauty should be protected," says the tycoon about to embark on a restoration of his own. A tale retold or rather remade, as befits the structure of Paul Schrader's screenplay (with citations from Dante's La Vita Nuova later recycled into Cat People) and the filmmaker's reflexively tangled approach to the psychological thriller. An ancient Italian cathedral is shrunk into a wedding cake and then into a marble crypt, such is the surrealism at play here, a valise full of ransom money repeatedly turns into blank paper just as the protagonist's lost daughter morphs into his bride and then back with a turn of the camera. (Observing his Galatea's gait, Robertson virtually describes the film's rhythm: "Don't sashay, just glide.") Vertigo is the texte sacré, though Portrait of Jennie and Yolanda and the Thief are equally pivotal lighthouses for De Palma, with a dose of Dial M for Murder brought to bear on a case of corporate swindle. Agamemnon and his "morbid preoccupations," Electra and her repressed remembrances: "A little late for existential questions, darling." A slow-motion valse, a thesis on aestheticism and, as the camera rotates under unnaturally gleaming airport lights, a raid on the fabrication of illusions wrapped as a perverse happy ending. Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. With John Lithgow, Sylvia Kuumba Williams, Wanda Blackman, and Stanley J. Reyes.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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