Monday, October 12, 2009

THE SERVANT (Joseph Losey, 1963, UK) Hugo Barrett is seemingly a model servant, a man of impeccable references and character, his black suite and bowler hat a charming anachronism that delineates his social status, a man who takes pride in his job. Tony is a young man, a wealthy playboy with grand ideals but locked into a life of ennui, and he hires Hugo and soon comes to depend upon him, both as servant and confidant. Barrett fosters this relationship and begins to place himself in a position of power, forcing his master’s fiancé into a subservient role and introducing a femme fatale into Tony’s life. Barrett manipulates Tony into allowing his (Barrett’s) “sister” to move in but it’s a ploy to seduce Tony and invert their rigid social standing by becoming masters of the household…while Tony serves the servants. Director Joseph Losey and writer Harold Pinter once again collaborate to examine archaic British cultural mores, to vivisect the class structure and reveal the marrow of human nature hat transcends any social hierarchy. Tony becomes the mark, his major flaw a sense of duty, and it’s this inherent and commendable trait that Barrett exploits: Hugo is a man of selfish needs and violent temperament who hides behind the mask of civility. Losey utilizes languid camera movements and tracking shots in claustrophobic spaces, often framing the characters as one dominates the space either by close-up with the other in deep focus or as one stands unflinchingly above the other. He often films reflections in gilded mirrors, as master and servant begin to transpose their allegiance and become opposites. Tony’s fiancé is redacted from his life by the powerful influence of Barrett as she suspects that something is indeed wrong, but Barrett’s “sister” is actually a weapon of sexuality, blackmail that keeps Tony a slave to his base desires. In a climactic scene, Tony and his servant are drunkenly playing a game on the staircase, a violent riptide underscoring the scene, and as Tony is on higher ground he slowly allows Barrett to take control, and orders Tony to pour him a drink. The servant has now conquered the household, and the film descends into a drug addled orgy where Tony’s fiancé stumbles from the inequity to seek the cold slivered air of a winter night, slashing her back to her senses. THE SERVANT is a film that not only examines class distinction but blurs he lines; where the wealthy young man is nothing but naïve while the lower class butler seeks his destruction: debauchery knows no boundaries. (B+)


smarthotoldlady said...

But the butler attains the highest score: he gains total power, the motif of 20th century politics.

Alex DeLarge said...

It's always the butler:)