Saturday, December 7, 2019

SECRET CEREMONY (Joseph Losey, 1968, UK)

Two women share a damaged and parasitic psyche, fearing the vast empty spaces of a lonely existence, ghosts like a residual haunting who putter about dreary routine for eternity. Joseph Losey's psychological drama is set inside a huge Victorian mansion whose rooms are weighted down with the anchor of past lives, where two women drown in self-inflicted guilt.

The film begins in a graveyard and ends at a funeral as the specter of death stalks the characters, an uneasy feeling heightened by Losey's taught direction and eerie soundtrack. Nicolas Roeg's masterful DON'T LOOK NOW comes to mind with skewed perceptions and dread foreboding. Losey utilizes many extreme angle shots, reducing and enlarging characters who never quite seem to be in the right frame of mind. Elizabeth Taylor is a emotional hurricane, able to convey impotent rage one moment and soul crushing grief the next: she is the ugly American dressed up in the trappings of the British socialite. Taylor is Leonora, a prostitute who still grieves over the loss of her child and carries this burden like a dead weight. She is approached by a young waif named Cenci, deftly played by Mia Farrow, who believes Leonora is her mother who died a few weeks ago. Here is a woman in search of a daughter to ally her guilt and grief, and a daughter in search of a mother for protection and care. As the role play progresses, a devilishly clever and bearded man completes the ménage a trio. Robert Mitchum as Albert is Cenci’s step-father with an unhealthy physical attachment to his daughter, and sets about to destroy the uber mater so he can inherit Cenci’s fortune.

Leonora confesses her professional sins but is not motivated by greed for Cenci’s money, only her own desire to heal this fractured girl. In the final touching scene, Leonora describes her own suicide attempt while Cenci slowly dies from ingesting a handful of pills, unbeknownst to Leonora. It is heartbreaking for Leonora but to Albert it is a heart "breaking" judgment.

Final Grade: (B)