The Comfort of Strangers

Possibly the best of Paul Schrader's films—a dubious distinction—but there's still more windup than delivery (1990). The screenplay is Harold Pinter's adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel, about what happens when an English couple (Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett) vacationing in Venice, trying to rekindle their relationship, fall under the baneful and kinky influence of an older resident couple, an Italian (Christopher Walken) and a Canadian (Helen Mirren). All four leads are effective, with Walken a particular standout (though Mirren seems more subdued than usual); cinematographer Dante Spinotti works very attractively with the local light and color; and Schrader integrates these blessings with resourceful mise en scene. But as with some of the earlier Pinter and Joseph Losey projects (which this often resembles), arty ambience with S and M trimmings is the basic bill of fare: it's a vehicle designed to tease more than edify—more fun to watch than to think about afterward.

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