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  Obsession Return To MeBuy this film here.
Year: 1976
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Cliff Robertson, Geneviève Bujold, John Lithgow, Sylvia Kuumba Williams, Wanda Blackman, J. Patrick McNamara, Stanley J. Reyes, Nick Kreiger, Stocker Fontelieu, Don Hood, Andrea Esterhazy, Thomas Carr, Tom Felleghy, Nella Simoncini Barbieri, John Creamer
Genre: Thriller
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Back in 1959, New Orleans businessman Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) was holding a dinner dance for his friends and associates to celebrate a very lucrative deal he had secured for his company. His colleague Bob LaSalle (John Lithgow) offered a speech of congratulations, and Michael went on to dance with his little daughter - the whole evening was a great success. But why had one of the waiters been carrying a hidden gun? Michael found that out soon enough when the guests had left and he was preparing for bed - his daughter cried out and suddenly he was plunged into a nightmare...

You won't be too taken aback after a viewing of Obsession to learn that it was inspired by a viewing director Brian De Palma and his co-writer Paul Schrader attended of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, but when word got to the great filmmaker that those two young upstarts thought they were improving his much respected effort, he was not best pleased, not at all. They went ahead anyway, but if they truly believed that they were making a better film than Hitch had then they would have been mistaken, as what they were actually making was a slower film than Vertigo - the whole thing moved at a snail's pace all the better to induce that dreamlike mood to the story.

Or perhaps induce a sleeplike mood over the audience, though that probably wasn't intended. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond was obviously under orders to render the imagery as hazy and languorous as possible, a curious choice for a thriller, and suggesting a plot that conjured more with the power of memory than it actually did. Even those opening scenes where Courtland's wife Elizabeth (Geneviève Bujold) and daughter were kidnapped and there was a race against time to get the ransom money together came across as lacking the urgency that they should, making for a far more passive experience than a pulse-pounding rollercoaster ride. Once the major drama of that is over, the film begins to positively sleepwalk.

We jump forward fifteen years or so to catch up with Courtland after the tragedy of the kidnap has occured but still presses on his mind. He happens to be in Italy on a business trip when he enters a church being restored and catches sight of a woman who looks uncannily like his missing wife, a woman named Sandra (also Bujold) and as obsessed as the title states, he gets to know her then falls in love with her as a replacement for Elizabeth, something Sandra only cottons onto gradually as she grows more uncomfortable about the whole situation, though it doesn't stop her agreeing to marry him. Have you spotted the twist yet? If you haven't, hand in your membership of the Sherlock Holmes Society.

That's the trouble with this film, it progresses as such glacial speed that it offers you plenty of time to work out the ending as the action pauses and treads water for the long middle section. If you think about it, and you will, there's only one person Sandra can be seeing as how she looks like Elizabeth but is a younger version, and as you suspect some kind of scheme happening here only one person can be behind that as well, which results in a high "get on with it" factor. It's frustrating because De Palma and Schrader, in their efforts to emulate Vertigo, fall short of the sickly nightmare of that film and keep nothing but the sickliness of emotion and the crushing inevitability of the outcome. That said, in a weird way they do give this a happy ending, although one can only imagine the deep discomfort of the surviving characters as it sunk in just precisely what they'd been up to. Near-constant score by Bernard Herrmann.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Brian De Palma  (1940 - )

Controversial American director and Alfred Hitchcock fan, strong on style, but weak on emotion. His early, political films like Greetings and Hi, Mom! gained some acclaim, but it was with Sisters that he emerged as a major talent of the 1970s and settled into his cycle of thrillers and horrors: The Phantom of the Paradise, Carrie, Obsession, The Fury, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double, Carlito's Way, Raising Cain, Snake Eyes and Femme Fatale being good examples.

He's not aversed to directing blockbusters such as Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission Impossible, but Bonfire of the Vanities was a famous flop and The Black Dahlia fared little better as his profile dipped in its later years, with Passion barely seeing the inside of cinemas. Even in his poorest films, his way with the camera is undeniably impressive. Was once married to Nancy Allen.

 
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