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Darling (John Schlesinger, 1965)

   

    Combining the high-gloss presentation of a Hollywood womenís picture with social commentary that might be mistaken for pointed were it not so blunt, John Schlesingerís Darling suffers the same fate as its protagonist Diana (Julie Christie). In a somewhat admirable, but ultimately misguided attempt to have it all, it gives up its very soul. For the first act, the Schlesinger presents Dianaís bad behavior unabashedly (if sometimes obscurely Ė her emotional shifts start, and remain, at an armís length). The film suggests sheís a product of her society, warts and all, and in its opening scenes, does so with a bit of style and subtlety. Her transgressions seem minor at first, and her bad judgments are demonstrably the price paid for freedom of choice. Around the movieís midpoint, things go a bit haywire, as the movie seems to doubt its own effectiveness as satire, and begins overplaying. An upper-class party abroad explicitly and lamely recalls Fellini as Diana flirts with la dolce vita. Later, as she becomes the bored trophy wife of an Italian prince, Schlesinger seems to be channeling Antonioni, and badly. The movie is infused with the wildly experimental, extremely dated style of so many once-classic films of the Sixties. Every other scene features some sort of reminder that the audience is, indeed, watching a film, whether itís a freeze frame, a jump cut, a stab at documentary realism, or a characterís direct assault on the camera. Itís not consistent, and leaves the feeling that individual scenes work better than the whole, ungainly beast.

   

    This cheaply ironic tale is narrated by Diana, supposedly in the guise of an interview being conducted for a fashionable womanís magazine. Oddly, the film, as directed, features a level of distance from her life that she clearly doesnít possess, which leaves that device feeling rather pointless. Melodrama doesnít require a director to jump through such hoops, and generally intensifies with closeness to its characters. One only needs to look at the masters of the genre to find Darling lacking. For example, Douglas Sirk managed to make subversive, pointed critiques about our lives while still provoking tears. Perhaps, thatís because he at least had enough optimism to acknowledge that there was room for hope in his charactersí lives before he had social forces steamroll it. Because of the obviousness of Darlingís approach, thereís opportunity for little but vehement condemnation. As a result of Schlesingerís misfiring ambitions, the enjoyment in this familiar story is nearly suffocated. As social commentary, it falls back on too many of the lame-brained attacks (e.g. aristocrats are surrounded by sex, yet impotent) that populated the pictures of the era to be effective or relevant.  As sporadically decent as Darling is as a soap opera, and as accomplished, if unlikable, as the performances are, thereís no escaping that itís a movie that achieves little of the intellectual importance that it shoots for. 

 

56 

02-12-04 

Jeremy Heilman