Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), the slender, incandescent British middle-aged fashion designer at the heart of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread," is a man who seems to have everything he wants. He lives in a splendid five-story London house with walls the color of cream, and he also works there, starting early, sitting with his tea and cakes while doing the sketches of the day, already possessed by his reverent work. He is a dressmaker who works with the fervor of an artist: dream, obsess, perfect. At night, sipping martinis at parties and restaurants, rubbing elbows with the countesses and wealthy London ladies who are his clients, and also a devoted womanizer in series that falls in love and discards: a beautiful model muse after another. (When the movie opens, your current flame is blinking). "Phantom Thread" is set in 1955, but Reynolds, in his luxurious and caring style, has the air of a highly contemporary high school hedonist. The world is his oyster, and he is also his caveman.
One weekend, he drives his brown sports convertible – at full speed, of course – to his getaway to the countryside, arriving at dawn and ordering breakfast in a hotel restaurant by the sea. The young woman waiting for him, Alma (Vickey Krieps), has a warm and melting smile, eyes locked in a glow of adoration and a slight accent. (She never specifies where she is from, but 34-year-old actress Vicky Krieps is a native of Luxembourg.) As soon as she takes her Welsh rarity order with a poached egg on top, a cup of lapsang tea, jam (no strawberry!), and an order of sausages, she can say that this is a man whose appetite for life matches his.
Daniel Day-Lewis has spent enough time behind the façade of ready-made vocals and elaborate hair that it's always an ironic shock to see how he returns to the skin of his own appearance and personality. In the first scenes of "Phantom Thread", he is courteous, welcoming and demure British, with his black and gray hair pulled back; He is so chivalrous in his flirting that he reminds you of someone like George Martin. After dining with Alma, Reynolds takes her to the studio of her country, where she models for him, and he makes her a dress. It's love at the first point.
But, of course, we are all very aware that something ominous must lurk in the shadows. Otherwise, there would not be a movie, and the planetary attraction of Jonny Greenwood's musical score, ecstatic with yearning and anxiety, invokes an unmistakable atmosphere of the 50s and Hitchcock. The same goes for Anderson's meticulous cinema. Reynolds presents himself as a fervent artisan of fashion, drawing and stitching his way to a vision of the feminine ideal. He judges Alma using her as a human mannequin, and therefore it is difficult not to have intimations of a movie like "Vertigo", or perhaps a super-curly "Pygmalion". Will "Phantom Thread" be the story of a man who falls in love with his fetishist design as a woman?
The dilemma of the film, as it happens, is not so spectacularly evil. Reynolds is under Alma's spell, and since he is a severely handsome and well-known designer, and she is not expatriated at waiting tables in a rural hotel, there is no need for superior mathematics to see where this imbalance of power. Alma returns to London with Reynolds and becomes his new model and muse. He moves her to the bedroom above, right next to him, as if it gives him a great privilege, although it seems that he is talking about a bird cage.
Do they sleep together? The film does not show that kind of thing (the oblique implication is yes), but its problems start at breakfast, where Alma spreads her toast and pours her tea, in a disarming and noisy way, which distorts Reynolds' line of thought . A little later, she makes the mistake of challenging one of her fabric choices, which leads to a round-the-clock verbal volley worthy of an absurd comedy, only Reynolds does not want energetic retorts: he wants to be obeyed. (Just as the exchange begins to sizzle, shout: "Enough!") Did I mention that Reynolds' sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), is sitting there during each of these encounters? She is his business partner, and also, apparently, his eternal companion (along with the ghost of his dead mother). Reynolds and Cyril are close in a way that suggests something warm, loyal and a little unseemly. She is like the housekeeper in Hitchcock's "Rebecca", creepy and a macabre touch, always floating except that the great Lesley Manville, her eyes like black lasers, her hair piled up in a & # 39; stacked & # 39; Short, he plays as Judi Dench's version of a character of John Waters: a rude in widow's clothes.
Anderson, who not only wrote and directed "Phantom Thread," but also filmed it (uncredited), presents the film as a piece of suspense for pornographic riches. His camera travels the stairs of the townhouse, and is looking at the work of Reynolds as a designer, wrapping us in the physicality of the fabrics: the sixteenth-century flamenco lace that makes Alma a beautiful lavender dress, or an impressive number of royal silk with pink diamonds on the chest. Anderson, when making the film, resorted to the careers of several British designers of the period (like Charles James), and the essential exotic element for the public is that this is the world of pre-haute couture, where fashion, at least in Britain, he still had to enter his postmodern dream phase. That was beginning in France, and Reynolds, in a moment, spits out the word "chic" as if it were a vile obscenity.
For all the attention he lavishes on Reynolds' designs, and on the daily swirl of his existence, where he is surrounded by a flurry of seamstresses, "Phantom Thread" is not, in the end, a story of artistic passion. It is a parable of toxic masculinity. Reynolds' surname, Woodcock, may seem as if it had been invented to reduce Beavis and Butt-Head to a state of hysterical grunts, but, in fact, the meaning of the name is exactly that. Day-Lewis's Woodcock is a virile, hard and virile puppet, a selfish recipient of male desire. He has invited Alma to fall in love with him, and he does, but the only thing that means to Reynolds is that he wants to continue with his life as it is (work, parties, routine), with Alma as the utensil of the girl he Get off the shelf whenever you feel like it. The film is built as a kind of suspense showdown: Reynolds, the elegant tyrant of fake romance, with his coldness Woodcock, will unhinge her? Or will it change the tables?
"Phantom Thread" is seductive and absorbing, but also emotionally remote. The film is framed as a love story, but never faints, and it's enough for you to ask yourself: Why Anderson, whose work in the late 90's (the transcendent "Boogie Nights", the exalted "Magnolia") pulsed with humanity out of series, now make dramas that are essentially didactic studies of fantastically cold beasts? He is still a wizard of cinematography, and "Phantom Thread" drags you and transports you, much more, to my mind, than "The Master". However, it is a thesis film: the story of an intimidating narcissist who lacks the ability to have a relationship, and the scandalous way in which he has been educated to become a human being. It's the story of a control freak made by a control freak.
Everything started with "Raging Bull"? In "Phantom Thread," Daniel Day-Lewis, who has stated that this will be his last performance on the screen, seems to be enjoying the opportunity to play another extravagant emotional fascist, and the film asks the audience to laugh, especially in the sequence where Alma tries to affirm her place in the scheme of things by making an intimate dinner for her and Reynolds. He has to expel everyone from the house as if he were cleaning Buckingham Palace, and when Reynolds enters, he acts as if he had been ambushed. Will you eat the asparagus with butter the way you prepared it? Why should he? He likes oil and salt!
The sequence sounds like the "The Masterpiece Theater" version of "There Will Be Blood," with Krieps, as Alma, affirming his radiant devotion to Reynolds & # 39; rejection of cold stone. It is at that moment that he decides to go to the extreme: a twist of a thriller that is also a dark joke. No doubt he plays (at least for the first time), but it's hard to shake off the feeling that Day-Lewis, along with Anderson, has confused misanthropy with art. The actor plays Reynolds with a winning dagger shine that becomes sinister, but I can not say that he comes out with a great performance.
"Phantom Thread" appears, for a good long stretch, as Anderson's expanding version "Rebecca" or "Suspicion": a thriller of romantic suspense that runs with terror. I wish he had stayed on that track, but Anderson is not happy about making a retro-black-hearted genre movie. He is too ambitious, and once Alma demands his revenge, the film does something a bit strange: it returns to the starting point, so Reynolds, even after proposing marriage to Alma, turns out to be the same imbecile he always was. The film, in what should have been its culminating passages, loses strength and becomes repetitive, moving towards the scene where Reynolds eats an omelet, knowingly colluding himself in his own punishment and reform. It is supposed to be the cornerstone of the movie's perversity: toxic masculinity toxifies itself. But it made me want Paul Thomas Anderson to stop making movies about people so stunted that he can not help but adore them for it.