3 May 2001 | ghosthawk5
curious, compelling mystery drama with a surprising ending, masterfully set up
We all suffer from those deja vu moments in life when we feel we recognise a place we've never been before or a person we find has an uncanny resemblance to someone we once knew, a loved one, friend or relative. I know of only two film directors who have taken this phenomenon and weaved it into movies worthy of watching. The pioneer in this case is, Hitchcock, and the film ,Vertigo. But in Brian De Palma's(Fury, Carrie, The Untouchables etc) Obsession, we come up with a truly well crafted, flawless tribute to Hitchcock and Vertigo. I'd have to agree with another reviewer that this movie vastly surpasses Vertigo in many respects. I'm equally surprised that its not that well known or reviewed.
The film sets the scene in Louisana state where there is a 10th wedding anniversary going on for Michael and Elizabeth Courtland. Michael played by Cliff Robertson, is a real estate businessman in partner with John Lithgow as Lasalle. Genieve Bujold( Anne of a Thousand Days) plays Courtland's wife, Elizabeth. There is a kidnapping that night in which Courtland's wife and daughter are seized and a ransom demanded for their safe return. The intented rescue goes wrong and both victims are killed in a high speed chase when the car they're occupying collides with an oil tanker, however the bodies are not recovered. Sorry that's as far as I'll tell you about what happens next. Please see the movie, its pure brilliance and the unusual feature about this gem is its connections with Vertigo. For one thing we have the same musical scorer, Bernard Hermann, who gives an excellent off beat musical theme here. Elements common to both films include both Genieve Bujold and Kim Novak(Vertigo) studying a portrait hung on a wall, Bujold in Courtland's house, Novak in an art gallery. We have male pursuers of female interests. Jimmy Stewart observes Novak during her daily excursions around San Fransisco (Vertigo), Robertson follows a woman who resemblances his former wife, around Florence, Italy (Obsession). We have mysteries to be solved in each film. At one point in Obsession, Bujold composes a letter only to crumple it up as it inadequately expresses her feelings. Novak does the exact same thing in Vertigo. Watch the piece with a gold plated pair of scissors that glints at the camera (Obsession), this technique was used very effectively with a knife in De Palma's DRESSED TO KILL movie. And I ask, is that Tom Skerritt I see towards the end of the movie dressed as a security guard who approaches a TWA check-in clerk? It wouldn't surprise me if it was, why? Because as any film fan knows, Skerritt was the captain of the Nostromo in the Sci-fi horror film ALIEN. What's the connection you ask? Well interestingly, One of the other members of that ill fated space crew just happened to be Veronica Cartwright who, God bless her little lungs, lets out some of the best screams in Hitchcock's THE BIRDS!! Apart from these connections what impressed me most about OBSESSION was the story by Paul Schrader, the acting, especially Bujold, who exudes a captivating sensuality in the film and John Lithgow as the upbeat business partner to Robertson. Robertson's character was difficult to play as he was constantly in a state of what seemed like eternal remorse, difficult to portray that kind of a mood on celluloid. But the most impressive feature by far was the masterful film editing done by Paul Hirsch. With only 6 years experience under his belt he produced such simple and fluid dynamics that lended some memorable moments to this film. One such piece of magic is John Lithgow's face morphing into someone else's in an airport scene and then morphing back again to show the compression of memory and time. Another time compression feature is where Robertson stands on a memorial site to his departed wife and daughter. The camera gives us a slow 360 degree panorama and when we return to Robertson's face we have miraculously advanced 16 years into the future. This is pure artistic work and it reminds me of the 'hands covering the face' scene in Cinema Paradiso, magic. Did you know that when Courtland's wife and daughter are kidnapped , the year is 1959 one year after the release of Vertigo and that a reference to pyschiatrists links both movies. Well there I go again. Better yet rent it on video you will be doubly surprised, I give it a definite 10.