Friday, 8 February 2013

2012 films: #11


Directed by Whit Stillman

It’s quite astounding, but Damsels In Distress is only Whit Stillman’s fourth film in two decades. But however astounding that could seem, it is nothing compared to the fact that it is also his first in 13 years. Apart from obvious commercial reasons for that (must be near impossible to raise money for all that whimsical stylishness that has never been in fashion in the first place), Stillman’s highly artistic, well-honed films look like they demand perfect precision to fully satisfy the author. Could be general laziness, could be writer’s block, of course, but that’s all immaterial: Damsels In Distress is classic Whit Stillman stuff.

And a classic Whit Stillman film is a very special place indeed, filled with peculiar young people who inhabit their own peculiar world. There’s nothing wrong with that, because you actually fall in love with that odd place, with its odd little troubles and concerns. I guess I get a similar feeling when I watch Wes Anderson’s films, except that Stillman comes off more serious and less twee. He doesn’t make you laugh (not that you don’t), it’s all high classes and pretty, heartfelt sarcasm.

Damsels In Distress might be a romantic campus comedy, but it is hilarious for reasons inexplicable and, I assume, completely unintentional. Which makes the experience of seeing these three refined young women suffer (gorgeously!) through University even more precious. Retelling the film’s plot is completely unthinkable, because it will just sound silly and inane. But Stillman can still offer you a perfect escape, and a story that infuses you with joy and optimism of a romantic, non-cheesy sort. I mean, that final dance. You just have to stifle your own cynicism.

Out of Stillman’s four films, I would probably put Damsels In Distress at the bottom of the list, but that is irrelevant. His mannerisms still amuse, and that peculiar world he creates – well, it still looks intriguing. The director's taste is impeccable, and when one of the heroines mentions at the end that “vulgarity is a kind of blasphemy”, you have to smile. First, this is such a perfect way to end a Whit Stillman film. And secondly, the director actually convinces you that it is completely true.

A welcome return.

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