Images (U.S.-Great Britain, 1972):

Chauvinistic aberrations notwithstanding (M*A*S*H*), the female psyche has always figured prominently in Robert Altman's movies, and in this manifestly obscure drama it takes center stage in both theme and style -- the sexual anxieties coiled inside Sandy Dennis' spinster in That Cold Day in the Park splooged outwards into a fractured subjectivity. The troubled heroine here is schizophrenic Susannah York, a children's book writer whose sense of self gives way to shifting (warring, actually) realities involving the men in her life (husband René Auberjonois, French lover Marcel Bozzuffi, smarmy family friend Hugh Millais), and then to murderous madness. Ravishing and incoherent, the film is Altman in fey, Europeanized reverie mode, with Repulsion and Persona as twin templates. Scrambling the shards of York's incomplete identity, the narrative sets up doubles everywhere, from Millais' blonde daughter (Cathryn Harrison) to a literal roadside doppelganger, though the picture's insistent fantasy/reality scrambling evades rather than uncovers the tensions that leave (or do they?) three male corpses strewn about the rubble of a woman's sanity. In case that's too clear, Altman pockmarks the plot with mirrors, tinkling crystal chimes, lenses and allusions to unicorns, all set to the laborious dissonance of John Williams' score. Still, if the project's leadenly imposed ambiguity shows how willfully artsy the director can be, the film offers considerable pleasures linked, as the title suggests, to the visual. In a way the subject is the basically hallucinatory nature of filmic syntax ("images"), and Altman, working with his superb McCabe & Mrs. Miller cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, designs an appropriately mystifying mise-en-scène, with unsettling compositions (the ethereal-ominous quality of the Irish vistas suggests Tarkovsky's use of nature in The Mirror) and patented zooms charting the splintered paths of a conscience always on the verge of spinning out of control. A failure, but no less exciting for that.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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