Review: Phantom Thread (2017)

The discrete charm of PTA.

by Iñaki Oñate

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017) isn’t just a movie about clothes. It’s a movie mainly about neurosis, love and sickness.

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a consacrated fashion designer that breathes, eats and sleeps fabrics, needles and objectified female bodies. Together with his elder sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) they run a fashion house in London dedicated to dressing the most powerful and richest gamma of international aristocracy.

Daniel Day-Lewis himself came up with the name for the character, who is loosely based on two well-known fashion designers: the Basque Cristobal Balentziaga and the British Charles James. Mr. Woodcock is a man with a  tremendous obsession with his work and a very systematic way of leading his life.

Following advice from his sister, he decides to go for the weekend
to his country house, where he meets a very young waitress by the name of Alma (Vicky Krieps). They fall in love and she becomes a model for his designs. In the beginning everything seems charming and glamorous for Alma but as time goes by she starts feeling the prison of the genius of his husband, who is extremely sensitive about little noises, small errors and altering his routine.

There is no doubt that this film is reaching out to be something else, to be strange and unique. The theme, if we label it as a story of love and endurance, has the sufficient dramatic elements to become a romantic comedy , an intimist bergmanian drama or a cynical and cruel thriller about a sick and twisted love relationship in the vein of Bitter Moon (1992) by Roman Polanski. The items for any of these equations are there but Anderson wants to generate his own thing. A discrete and enigmatic storytelling that reminds us more of The Master (2012) than the violence of Boogie Nights (1997) or the paroxysm of There Will Be Blood (2007).

Collaborating for the forth time with Radiohead’s lead guitarrist Jonny Greenwood seem to be a wise choice, for the music really helps in giving the film a little bit of punch and energy.

In contrast to his last movie Inherent Vice (2014), here we have a story
with complete characters and plot, no holes, no blind spots, no boring or disconnected sequences. Phatom Thread is a love story dealing with the psychological turmoils in a relationship that we can all relate to. With that being said, I can confess that I wasn’t satisfied with the cinematic delivery, by which I mean the way the director presents the story through this peculiar alchemy of shots, editing and sound design. There is a coldness to the movie, probably the result of a highly intelligent artist abusing his vast rationality, overthinking on how to be unique, weird and enigmatic.

I would have expected much more fire from an iconoclast and writer with the credentials of Anderson. Give me Roller Girl, give me Daniel Plainview, give me Donnie Smith breaking his teeth as he tries to steal from the safe of his boss and frogs start falling from the sky. Give me those dramas where there is blood.

IñaIñaki Oñate / Writer (Quito, Ecuador – 1988) Iñaki resides in Buenos Aires, where he studied film directing at Universidad del Cine. His short films have been part of the official selection at the New York, La Habana and Cannes festivals.  He’s currently developing his first feature film with his own independent production company, Undergofilms. He also works in music and art illustration.

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