Saturday, October 3, 2009

ACCIDENT (Joseph Losey, 1967, UK) Stephen’s patriarchal crisis becomes a car wreck of twisted morals and fetid emotional fumes, a combustible combination that will burn away the slick veneer of his socially forthright conceit. Director Joseph Losey and Writer Harold Pinter collaborate to examine the corrupt cultural mores of the bourgeoisie and reveal the iniquity behind the masks of education and enlightenment, a cancer whose malignancy sickens the entire family unit as it slowly rots away from the inside out. The film begins with a slow zoom towards a beautiful farmhouse as night settles comfortably upon the land, but a revving engine interrupts this serenity and suddenly tires screech and we hear the sounds of metal and flesh being torn apart: but Losey’s camera continues to slowly focus on the house until the front door swings open. Stephen rushes from the house to discover that his guests were involved in the crash: his young student William is dead and the sultry Anna is injured…and drunk. As Anna tries to extricate herself from the wreckage, she grinds her heels into the pallid face of her young lover, an apt metaphor concerning her egocentrism and contempt for men. Stephen carries her back to the empty house and the body of the narrative is a flashback leading up to this fatal moment. Losey and Pinter dissect Stephen and his Oxford cronies, these leering Professors of Philosophy and Literature who usurps the student’s will to quell their own perfunctory passions. Actor Dirk Bogarde imbues the protagonist with the right amount of empathy and emotional detachment, a man whose guilt is sometimes reflected in his dark eyes and sagging visage while his derivative conversations attempt to hide his shallow motivations. The story begins to divulge the vapid secrets between Stephen, his colleague Charlie, his student William and the exotic Anna, a woman not as innocent as she first appears. In one scene pregnant with ennui, we witness Stephen and a former mistress share dinner and sex, the conversation narrated but never matching the images we view onscreen: this disjunction creates a cold psychological indifference towards the protagonist. Stephen is so concerned about losing his virility that he joins in a mock rugby game, and views Anna as only a goal to be achieved…at any expense. He feels threatened by Charlie, who is having an affair with Anna, and even exposes this fact to his gravid wife. Losey expertly crosscuts this scene with Stephen’s visit to Charlie’s estranged spouse where we discover her gardening in the rain, depression consuming her once vibrant personality. As this chronicle of malfeasance comes full circle, Stephen ignores his wife’s premature delivery by blackmailing Anna, who is drunk and still in shock, into sleeping with him. The film closes with another slow zoom upon the farmhouse, as children play in afternoon delight, while the horrendous sound of another crash overwhelms the visuals: this is the explosive trauma that lurks beneath the swagger of the nuclear family. (B+)

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