The Comfort of Strangers
November 30, 1990 | 107 minutes
Harold Pinter took Ian McEwan’s novella and smoothed out little details that wouldn’t necessarily transfer to the screen convincingly, gave it a concrete location (Venice, the back of my copy of the book suggests it could easily have been Amsterdam), and added his own layered dialogue; thus freeing director Paul Schrader to concentrate on the spectacular visuals (gold-toned photography by Dante Spinotti, costumes by Giorgio Armani, and Gianni Quaranta’s amazingly detailed reproduction of a Venetian palazzo). After his work for David Lynch, Angelo Badalementi provides an atypical orchestral score accented with Turkish motifs. The film’s sting-in-the-tail ending is unpredictable and leaves the viewer with unanswered questions to mull over long after.
“The Comfort of Strangers” premiered out of competition at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival and was released in British cinemas in October of the same year. The New York Times praised its look and acting as a “character piece, dressed to the nines by Armani, the Italian designer who almost qualifies as one of the film’s auteurs. As photographed by Dante Spinotti and with production design by Gianni Quaranta, the movie also looks appropriately rich and, like Robert and Caroline, self-indulged. More important, it is performed with great style by its four stars, particularly by Mr. Walken, who somehow manages to seem perfectly sane though clearly around the bend. Miss Mirren’s Caroline appears fragile but has the strength of the possessed. It’s not easy playing back-up to an all-out sadist.” Walken received further praise from Roger Ebert: “The actors are well-chosen for this material, particularly Walken, who can project decadence and danger without doing anything in particular to call attention to his methods.” Natasha Richardson won the Evening Standard British Film Award as Best Actress in 1991.
Please note that this review contains spoilers: “The Comfort of Strangers” is a guilty pleasure of mine. The first time I watched it, I had no idea what it was about. In the begining I thought it was a boring self-discovery trip of a bored couple, who gets some life lesson from an older wise couple. How could I be so wrong. It doesn’t take long until you watch closely – and listen closely to what these characters say. Mirren’s character I found especially intriguing. In the few scenes she has, Caroline shifts from a gentle, if slightly awkward host, to a battered and silent wife, to a vicious spider. There is a scene when Natasha Richardson’s character finally gets a clue on what’s happening – and as she does, Mirren’s face changes, it’s all in her eyes, but you see the transformation of a performaner who let’s his role down. Within the last few minutes of the film, you just realise how bad this all is. It’ll leave you shocked the first time. And it makes re-watching the film all the more interesting to see how this nightmare evolves. It’s definately not your typical mainstream and doesn’t serve as a regular horror film as well. But it’s a great character piece with great performances by its four actors. If you enjoy the film or not, you will not forget it.