Phantom Thread (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Those expecting a typical love story set in 1950s London are certain to experience a shock when the plot takes an unexpected turn about halfway through this most beguiling picture involving a couturier (Daniel Day-Lewis) who falls for a simple waitress (Vicky Krieps). Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, master of capturing outer beauty in every seemingly ordinary setting down to the details of finest fabrics, crafts yet another project that is both deeply curious and entertaining without sacrificing an ounce of his vision.
One of its recurring themes is manipulation, real or imagined. Just as we get a sneaky feeling that dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock is more in love with the idea of Alma, what she represents as a woman, a product, and a muse, than he is in tune with the person who is willing to give her all in order for their relationship to subsist and thrive, Anderson creates a convincing charade that the story is just another posh period drama. In this way, it is playful, without becoming mean-spirited, and we cannot help but become engaged with the material since it is willing to evolve or veer off in another direction. The screenplay is loyal to its thesis despite the changes that occur.
The picture is admirable for its ability to take risks. Take note of the music, for example, in how it is almost always playing in the background even when a scene demands absolute silence. Thoughtful and observant viewers might wonder if the use of score is there to serve as distraction or meant to communicate sincerity. It comes across as though the music is another character for us to decipher like a ghost that lingers or thought left unexpressed. As proven by generic works helmed by less capable hands, allowing the score to go rampant creates an experience to be endured. Not here. We relish it, and it makes us wary.
It is no surprise that Day-Lewis provides yet another wonderful performance. He plays a renowned maker of clothes with a difficult personality, to say the least, but the performer finds numerous ways to keep us interested in Reynolds. For instance, Day-Lewis ensures that we trust in Reynolds’ mastery of his craft. We notice this in that way the actor touches the fabric; the handling of scissors, pins, measuring tapes; the looks given to a product that is slightly less than stellar. In order words, we are convinced of the character’s reputation and so, like those around him, we choose to stand by him, to study him.
The surprise, however, is Krieps who portrays Alma with great depth and empathy. Her face is so intriguing; in certain angles, she looks rather plain but she has a knack for changing her face just so in order to communicate precise thoughts and emotions. This trait, I think, will serve her well in character-driven pictures in which words are negligible. It goes without saying that Krieps is a performer to watch. She reminded me at times of a young Meryl Streep whose face is exotic, almost ghostly, but timeless.
I believe “Phantom Thread” is about possession. The couturier is possessed by his occupation, a need to create the best work for his consumer; the woman he invites into his home is possessed by the need to be loved, desired. And when their need to possess is not met, tension rises, boils over, causes a flood. And then there are those surrounding the couple. Through the clothing made specifically for them, the customers wish to possess either a lifestyle or, at the very least, a positive perception from those who see them wearing such high-end attire. This is a work to be relished, studied.