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'Phantom Thread' review: Elegance meets claustrophobia

When you live alone for a long time and go through the same routine on a daily basis, your idiosyncrasies lose its peculiarity. They become, what you’d imagine, ordinary traits. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) by no means lives alone, but he is lonesome in the world he has stitched for himself as a dressmaker – a world he obsessively controls. A young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who exudes the insecurity of youth, falls for the surety of age that Woodcock brings. But little does she know what she is signing up for. On their first date he wipes the lipstick off of her face. “I’d like to see who I’m talking to,” he says. At first glance it could be a romantic gesture, but it’s only the first sign of Woodcock’s fussiness.

Phantom Thread
  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Richard Graham, Camilla Rutherford, Harriet Sansom Harris
  • Story line: A young waitress deals with the rigidity and eccentricity of the dressmaker she falls in love with.

The dressmaker resents change, be it in his woman or his breakfast. The latter is perhaps more dear to him. “I can’t begin my day with a confrontation,” he says, wryly, when Alma tries to have a conversation over breakfast. As she grows in confidence, both as his lover and his muse, she showcases more of herself, which means eating breakfast as noisily as a person possibly can. He resents that, and asks her to leave, she obliges. Another day, she brings him tea while he is working, without his permission. He loathes it, and asks her to leave. Alma does, yet again. “The tea is leaving but the interruption is staying here with me,” he says menacingly.

There are various instances like these that director Paul Thomas Anderson throws at the audience as breadcrumbs to work towards deciphering Woodcock’s character. This Gothic “love story”, if you will, is Anderson’s eight feature outing and second collaboration with Day-Lewis after There Will Be Blood (2007). Both Anderson and Day-Lewis are known for their restraint and building up of emotions. In Phantom Thread, neither the maker nor the actor are willing to give an easy access into the protagonist’s mind. Woodcock is complex, difficult and dapper (of course, it’s Day-Lewis), but that’s just on the surface. As the film progresses, his character, aided by the veteran actor’s stupendous performance, renders a feeling of intense claustrophobia, even if you don’t wish to identify with Alma. Although, Krieps with her self-assured presence makes it difficult not to.

For a film about a dressmaker, Phantom Thread deals with many things – obsession, the love for work and perfection, loneliness, insecurities, love, longing and even food – but not clothing. Anderson uses the ’50s Britain and high fashion as a compelling backdrop to tell a haunting and stylish tale, full of confrontations and scathing one liners (“I’m admiring my own gallantry for eating the asparagus the way you prepared it”). The film is enhanced by non-stop orchestral pieces, piano and violin melodies, which appropriately steer your reaction. The performances by Krieps and Lesley Manville (as Cyril, Woodcock’s sister) are beautifully nuanced, and matches up to Day-Lewis’ expert hold over acting.

As Anderson’s film reaches its climax, the ending could be argued to be too literal or too poetic. But undisputedly one, where you hope that Day-Lewis’ declaration of Phantom Thread being his last film, is only figurative.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 3:48:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/elegance-meets-claustrophobia/article22623818.ece

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