Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby – 1968

Director – Roman Polanski

Starring – Mia Farrow, John Cassavettes, Ruth Gordon, Sydney Blackmer, and Charles Grodin

It is relatively rare that all of a given director’s films (of the ones that I’ve seen, mind you) are of such a caliber that each defies the expectations put forth by the last. Even some directors of what I would consider the greatest films of all time have their bad ones. Coppola has The Rainmaker, Spielberg has the last 30 minutes of everything he’s made since Schindler’s List, and Scorsese has Bringing Out the Dead. My point is…it is extremely hard to make one great film, let alone multiple ones. It seems however that Roman Polanski is one of a select few directors who, through each of his films that I’ve seen, remains consistantly engaging, provocative, and inventive.

Now granted, I certainly haven’t seen everything he’s made, but so far he’s off to a great start. But even with his talent’s as a filmmaker resolutely confirmed, there was an awful lot of lot of hype surrounding Rosemary’s Baby. Does it stand the test of time, like “The Godfather” has? Or does it suffer the same aging and loss of context as something like “The Graduate”? The news is good, it easily stands the test of time, and remains a throuroughly suspenseful, intellegent, and effective film.

The story is fairly straight forward, a young couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, move into a new apartment building that has a history of tragedy, and misfortune. The neighbors are strange, and manage to barge their way into the lives of the Woodhouses, pushing their homemade remedies, and decorating ideas off on the young couple, and all the while Guy is busy with work leaving Rosemary alone in the big, empty apartment a lot. Though an initial friendship is struck with their neighbors, the Castevets, they seem to surround and smother the still wary Rosemary. Guy seems to take to them more and more as they make themselves even more at home once Rosemary becomes pregnant.

The Castevet’s start seeming stranger and stranger, eventually leading Rosemary to question whether or not they have alterior motives. The suspense builds and builds, relentlessly pushing Rosemary closer and closer to the edge of sanity.

Firstly, it should be said that Polanski seems to have a real curiosity with the relationship between lonliness and ones world view. Each of his films deals with the struggle to maintain the latter while dealing with the former. Also, in each of his films there seems to be two main characters (one inanimate and the other human), the human character (often played by a waif-like, attractive, young woman), and the apartment in which the main character is living. Oh sure there are other characters that play into the story, but none of them leave the same indelible impression on the story that these two characters do.

The apartment in Rosemary’s Baby serves as a launching pad for the film’s paranoia and mistrust. It is depicted as huge, yet it always seems cramped. The ceilings are vaulted, but the apartment itself is so deep and maze-like we feel as if our characters, and the audience as well, will never escape. This place is a prison, and Rosemary is it’s prisoner.

As the film starts, Rosemary is bright and cheerful. Her relationship is strong, and she has a wide network of friends, but as the film progresses, she is consistently more and more cut off from the outside world. The apartment is equal parts sanctuary and menace. As if the neighbors and history of the apartment weren’t enough she has been getting more and more ill during her pregnancy, resulting in her staying locked away inside, under the watchful eye of her husband and their neighbors.

It is this balance which is most delicate in the film. If the strange-ness of the setting or situation was heaped on too quickly, or if it wasn’t strange enough, the crux of the conflict would have been ruined, but Polanski gets it absolutely right. He let’s us dwell just long enough to send our minds racing right towards the edge, right after Rosemary. She and the audience are together in our suspicions, not sure of what is real and what is simply paranoia.

As well as being superbly constructed, Rosemary’s Baby is also expertly cast. Sidney , and Ruth Gordon are pitch perfect as the intrusive and possibly evil Castevets. The always great, John Cassavettes is equal parts caring, strong, and yet still completely suspect at the same time as Guy Woodhouse, however the performance most central and most integral to the success of the film is Mia Farrow, Rosemary.

Farrow doesn’t play the role as the victim. Rosemary isn’t so much helpless as much as she is facing insurmountable odds. Despite the fact that she is the focus of the conspiracy (or is she?), she is actually the strongest character, not to mention the most interesting of the story.  It is a testament to Farrow’s skill as an actor, and to Polanski’s as a director that this delicate balance wasn’t lost in the shuffle.  Instead, Rosemary’s Baby was, and remains a powerful example of what can be achieved through the medium of film.

So the long and short of it is that, if you haven’t already, you should see this film. It really stands up to the test of time, and truly deserves it’s place on this list!

“Mia Farrow has a cute haircut!” – Ashley

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Hannah and Her Sisters – 1986

Director – Woody Allen

Starring – Michael Caine, Diane Wiest, Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, and Woody Allen,

I have a long history of not really liking the films of Woody Allen.  I feel my reasons are and were sound, and should you like to know why I haven’t liked them, you can see them explained here and here, or I can quickly summarize…Diane Keaton.  Okay, to be fair, that isn’t the only thing that doesn’t appeal to me about his films, it certainly doesn’t help them out in my opinion though.  But recently the strangest thing happened to me.  I saw a Woody Allen film that while well thought of, isn’t one of the ones that every one mentions when talking about Allen (those being Annie Hall, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the worst film ever made, Manhattan Murder Mystery).  The film in question was inhabited by real characters that actually could exist outside of the confines of New York City (although they don’t necessarily need to).  They are subject to a real emotions, and motivations that weren’t added for comic value.  Strangest of all…I liked this film quite a bit.

Mia Farrow plays Hannah, the trustworthy, dependable, and somewhat discounted anchor to her family.  Her sisters, played by Diane Wiest, and Barbara Hershey, use her as a means of support in their endeavors.  Hannah’s parents waffle between lovey-dovey, starry-eyed affection, and drunken accusations with a touch of distrust.  In an effort to hold their relationship together, Hannah is put into the role of arbitrator and peace-keeper, all the while attempting to keep her own life and marriage on track.

Hannah’s husband, Eliott, played by Michael Caine, sees her as a boring but necessary part of his life, instead lusting after her sister Lee.  The both of them enter into an adulterous relationship based solely on lust and desire, and only later confront their desires for stability, reassurance, and regularity that each receives from Hannah.  Though Wiest’s character, Holly, has a much less destructive relationship with her sister she is still constantly borrowing money which she uses for a variety of failed career ventures.

As usual Allen puts himself in the film, although this time around he relegates himself to a much smaller role.  As Mickey, Hannah’s ex husband, he plays one of the few redeemed characters in the film (not in a bad way mind you, every one in the film is perfectly cast in their roles), and the relationship that develops throughout the course of the film provides the film with a rich, tangible, and completely enjoyable center.

Though it lacks the groundbreaking structure of something like Annie Hall, and doesn’t quite provide the super iconic imagery of something like Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters is by far one of Allen’s best (right up there with the aforementioned Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors).  Allen’s fascination with the existence of God and the meaning of life has never been handled better than it is here, and neither has the pay-off from such questions.  By the end of the film, my heart was singing, and my own troubles were forgotten, left for another time.

It is at this point that Allen fans could rightfully tell me, “I told you so…” (although they’d be only half right).  So consider me told.