Interiors -the movie
"I can’t seem to shake the real implication of dying. It’s terrifying. The intimacy of it embarrasses me."- Diane Keaton as Renata, in Woody Allen’s Interiors.
There are certain films that I revisit with some frequency, and there are a few films and series that I turn to at least once every year, if not more. Anthony Minghella’s The Taltented Mr. Ripley, with its raw, lush Italian scenery set against Patricia Highsmiths tainted morals is one. BBC’s ten-hour miniseries adapted from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, with Jeremy Irons coming of age, amongst pre-war opulence, repressed love and strict Catholicism, is another. But, if I were stuck on a deserted island, or sequestered for an unspecified duration of time at that country manor we’ve so often dreamt of owning somewhere just a few hours west of London, my first choice would be to pack Woody Allen’s Interiors, from 1978. Set in Montauk, Long Island, Manhattan, and briefly in upstate New York, the film is a stunningly dark piece of family drama set against a backdrop at once serene and maddeningly fragile.
Typically, Woody Allen is the neurotic king of existential comedy, and Interiors, his first foray into drama, was made between his two wonderfully hopeless tales of love lost and found, Manhattan and Annie Hall. The film zeroes in on three grown sisters, Joey, Renata and Flyn, whose lawyer father, to the surprise of everyone, separates from his wife Eve, their mother, at a ripe old age. Set within lives of great privilege, the film deals with the myriad ways in which we attempt, again and again to order and arrange our worlds or interiors if you will, and it does so with the utmost care, devotion, distance and respect. Dealing with the potential pain of intimacy, of adultery, suicide and familial responsibility, Interiors asks us to consider the moral obligations we have towards those near and dear to us, and asks at what point can we conceivably be relieved of our duty?
Though it is strictly speaking a perfectly executed piece of drama, Interiors, in typical Woody Allen style, is not without its wonderfully curt and bitingly funny lines. Joey for example, the middle sister stuck between rising actor Flyn and renowned poet Renata, is trying in vain to figure out what to be when she grows up, and remarks at some point in one of Allen’s hopelessly tender lines: “I feel the need to express something, but I don’t know what it is. Or how to express it.”
Often described as Allen’s homage to Ingmar Bergmann, and especially to his Autumn Sonata with Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergmann, Interiors far surpasses his masters’ work to my mind. Within the universe of the film, the interiors of each house were all designed by Eve, the troubled matriarch whose husband has just left, and remind me most startlingly of the interior paintings of Danish artist Wilhelm Hammershøi who spent his life painting ordinary scenes from his haute-bourgeois apartment in Copenhagen in the early 1900’s. The delicate colour palette’s in muted earth tones, the carefully curated vases and textiles that furnish each scene, together with the camera recording the lives of this family, softly and dutifully, as if from the corner, all add up to a film that is tender and heart-breaking.
The timelessness that each room embodies in this picture reminds us of the complex relationship that Eve represents, poised between total grace and shattering madness. Her character, and the rooms she created, demonstrate the (perhaps) naive hope, that if there is order and harmony in our surroundings, this tranquility will spill over into our hearts interior and render the din in there negligible, giving us shelter when the unpredictability of the lives we are part of become simply too much to bear.
NOTE: The Movie Interiors by Woody Allen is about the inability of people to take control of their lives, A reacurring theme of his. It was released in 1978, but is just as, or even more relevant today. It is by far The Chromarty’s no 1 recommended film, as it ties all our fields of interest together.
Check out the film here:
WORDS: Morten Andenæs
PHOTOS: stills from the movie