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Thread: SALTBURN (Emerald Fennell 2023)

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    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    SALTBURN (Emerald Fennell 2023)



    Summer in the country

    One can't give Emerald Fennell's new movie Saltburn a pass. There is too much that's wrong with it. But it held my interest more than I had been led to expect. Its decadence-porn may qualify it as a guilty pleasure. You may remember Fennell's debut, Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan, which held everyone's attention and won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. This one doesn't go for men but for a small segment of the English upper class who can still afford to live poshly on lavish ancestral estates. The shots are crude and it's not clear why they're being fired at this late date. Fennell's desire is to shock, to hold the attention. Those are more important aims for her this time than being convincing or relevant. But she does succeed at those aims. This is one not to miss for fans of British "eat the rich" films and for admirers of Barry Keoghan. Keoghan has shone so often in minor roles - he likes to get your attention too - and here, as in Yorgos Lanthimos' Killing of a Sacred Deer, he gets a juicier role. The final sequence, in which he dances naked from room to room to room enfilade in a great mansion, is so well done it's almost worth sitting through the film for it. Fennell forgets the point. What the hell! It's just a trip.

    Smart but nerdy first year Oxford student Oliver Quick (Keoghan) wangles a summer invitation to the stately home of classmate Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). It's 2006 - so everything isn't traded around instantly on social media quite yet; but the date may also simply fit Fennell's own youth. She's reported to come from wealth, but not exactly blue blood, so there may be complicated feelings. It seems Oliver is to be a toy and amusement for Felix and his family. He is flattered - but he has other plans.

    All we know is that Oliver is enamored of Felix, or of his looks, his aristocratic ease, his circle of admirers. There's a title, plenty of money, and the stately home, which turns out to be very grand indeed and equipped with butler and footmen and a boxwood maze. They dress for dinner - black tie and all that. The budget was grander than for Promising Young Woman and included funds for some fancy entertaining, a big birthday party in costume. It starts out like Bridehead Revisited, or rather a crude parody of Waugh and his novel's handsome film and television adaptations. It winds up being something rather like Highsmith's often-filmed Talented Mr. Ripley.

    Saltburn has parents and a sister for Felix and assorted hangers-on. There is "Poor Dear Pamela," which brings back Carey Mulligan for a brief appearance, but you are more strongly advised to look for her as Leonard Bernstein's South American wife in Maestro, a wonderful performance in one of the best American films of the year. You are better off seeing Jacob Elordi in Sofia Coppola's new film, Priscilla, playing Elvis. Both roles are superficial and both Elvis and Felix are shticks, but Priscilla is the better film. The Australian-born Elordi does have a Greek god quality, but doesn't that suit Elvis better than an English aristocrat?

    Perhaps Elordi got the role more for being upper-storey than for being upper-class: he is nearly ten inches taller than the diminutive Keoghan, whose smallness and inferiority are often stressed in Saltburn - except when they're not. This film is marred by limited and inconsistent characterizations. But this is still a tasty role for the Irish actor, and Oliver Quick (the name a Dickensian twist) is somebody we learn we didn't really know at all. Sometimes he is made to look godlike, and besides the final naked romp is flatteringly shown earlier shirtless and buff.

    The excellent cinematography of Linus Sandgren in 4:3 ratio has a misty, pictorial quality that glamorizes everything too much for satire, but is a pleasure in itself. Sometimes there's a dark surreal beauty that reminded me of baroque black and white films like Albicocco's La fille aux yeux d'or. The way the film is allowed such flourishes is one sign that the "eat the rich" theme blurs into "gobble up the rich." The shocks, often involving consumption of body fluids, come at no logical moments, nor do the flashes of loud early 2000's indie pop music, though said to be well chosen.

    There are nice turns by Richard E. Grant as Sir James, Felix's father, and Rosamund Pike, as Elspeth, his mother. Alison Oliver has an important role as his sister Venitia, with whom Oliver has a dangerous and kinky flirtation. I have mixed feelings about Archie Madekwe as Farleigh, another Oxford student guest at Saltburn. Farleigh is supposed to be an upperclass American and exists only to taunt Oliver - and to himself (spoiler alert) later be cut down. Fennell is taking crude pot shots. But remember - it's fun.

    This is a role that Barry Keoghan was born to play - ten years ago. He is superb except that he is 31. Elordi is too old too, but is five years younger. I just came from watching the Swedish Netflix series "Young Royals," where all the teenagers are played by teenagers, and even when they're good looking, have adolescent skin. When someone tells Oliver he's "real," it rings false. No one at Brideshead ever told Charles Ryder he was "real." Those were better days.

    Saltburn, 127 mins., debuted at Telluride Sept. 23, 2023, showing also at other festivals including BFI London, Zurich, Mill Valley and Stockholm. US and UK openings Nov. 17, 2023. Metacritic rating: 6̶0̶%̶ 61%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-28-2023 at 02:05 AM.


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