That Cold Day in the Park (Robert Altman / U.S.-Canada, 1969):

Locked in the mausoleum or loose in the rain, the independent artist's situation ca. '69. A curious anagram of The Collector, Summer and Smoke and The Sleeping Tiger informs the construction, Robert Altman shoots it for the full surrealism of a New Hollywood vision in wintry Vancouver. The young socialite (Sandy Dennis) is rich and lonely and therefore old, "a compulsive talker" next to the curly-haired hippie (Michael Burns) she brings home for a bath and a meal and an earful of balalaika. Her pinched paleness cloaks churning desire, his silence is a manipulative child's game, control shifts until the Beckettian rupture is enacted with bedsheet and carving knife. (A plate of weed cookies and a round of blind man's bluff supply just the spasms the pent-up heroine hungers for: "See, that's the red that symbolizes the flame... in my heart.") Glass panels and dismembered dolls, reflections and refractions, quite the panoply of screwball dissonance. Bocci ball with the geriatric social circle (Rosemary's Baby), "a very strange attitude toward sex," a dash of Les Enfants Terribles with sis (Susanne Benton) in the bathtub. Throughout, Altman's camera prowls and eavesdrops: Slowly zooming past characters in a two-shot so that abstract background lights fill the screen, panning across windows while absorbing waiting-room chatter at a gynecologist's office, lingering in the corner of the "dyke dive" for a side glance of the rough couple sitting by the counter in the film's solitary loving relationship. Disgust, madness, stagnation ("I want things to stay the way they are") versus the mooching modernist, it's all pulled together to a blade's jagged edge. Images and 3 Women continue the severe study, Haneke (or, rather, Huppert) takes up the freezer-burn comedy for The Piano Teacher. Cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs. With Luana Anders, David Garfield, Edward Greenhalgh, Doris Buckingham, and Michael Murphy.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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