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USA/Italy/UK 1991
Directed by
Paul Schrader
117 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Comfort Of Strangers

Paul Schrader is deservedly better know as a screenwriter particularly for his work with Martin Scorsese than as a director but The Comfort of Strangers is his best work – a characteristically dark view of the human psyche and the interdependence of sex and death.

Like Nic Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now (and of course Luchino Visconti's 1971 classic Death In Venice)  Venice supplies the ideal setting for this tale of madness and death. Mary (Natasha Richardson) and Colin (Rupert Everett) are English tourists who have returned to Venice where they spent an idyllic holiday a few  years earlier in order to evaluate their relationship. One evening, apparently by chance, they meet Robert (Christopher Walken) an ingratiating and manipulative local who gets them drunk then invites them back to his palazzo to stay with him and his wife (Helen Mirren), a Canadian. The younger couple are easily led into a completely alien world that at first frightens them with its strangeness, then destroys them,

The Comfort Of Strangers is a top drawer production. Harold Pinter, adapted the screenplay from a novel by Ian McEwan, Dante Spinotti did the photography, production design is by Gianni Quaranta responsible for such films as A Room With A View, music is by Angelo Badalamenti, even the costumes are by Giorgio Armani. Which is not to say that Schrader couldn’t have made a mess of things but he keeps a measured tone never giving in to the temptation to sensationalize. Once again, with the dark and damp alleyways of a decaying Venice you really have all the underlying dis-ease you need. Embellishment is irrelevant and Schrader judiciously simply lets the story play out.

The performances are first class with Christopher Walken leading the way in a perfect simulation of corruption and Helen Mirren close behind as his accomplice.  On the other hand Everett and Richardson are well-cast as the earnest young English couple.

Personally I would have finished the film with the slow pull-back from the climactic confrontation between the two couples but the extra few minutes don’t really spoil what is one of the finest films about moral decay from either side of the Atlantic.




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