3 Women ★★★★★

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I'm really not sure what to do with the fact that: (a) no less than three of the grandmasters of film have made what is essentially the same movie; and (b) that this same film represents an apex or near-apex in terms of craft, thematic strength, or emotional intensity.

In short, this is Robert Altman's PERSONA. Unless it's Robert Altman's MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Though, of course, MULHOLLAND DRIVE would have to be David Lynch's 3 WOMEN by way of PERSONA, wouldn't it, since this film predates Lynches by 24 years? But then again, since all three movies deal in startlingly consistent ways with strong female characters (Spacek is as good as she's ever been, Duvall turns in a career-best performance), dream logic, suggested suicide, shifting power dynamics, fluid and transposing identities within overt questions about the nature of time and of reality itself . . .it feels more as if all three directors have delved deep enough to come upon one of the subterranean ur-stories.

I'm talking about three movies as I talk about 3 WOMEN. Suffice to say there's a deep analysis to be made between these three, but that would be after many more viewings than I've put in. What strikes me about this particular one is that Altman really isn't the sort of director to get so deeply into psychodrama or menace or abstraction as to produce something like this. It may be the true outlier within his filmography; it certainly qualifies as such within the movies of his I've seen. There's an utterly cracked dream sequence near the end that hits notes that I didn't know he had in him. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I didn't know he had any interest in hitting them; it's almost as if Altman himself were taking on an ulterior identity.

It's also the outlier within the triptych. I'd say that Altman is closer to Lynch than Bergman (again, Lynch came later, but Altman almost seems to be channeling him here). What Altman adds is his trademark sly humor (example: a dress keeps getting caught in a car door) and a third character (PERSONA and MULHOLLAND are strictly duos) who does little but provide the disturbing priapic-alien swimming pool murals (which themselves cast enough of a spell over the proceedings as to claim third-character status) until, in the final act, she comes hurtling in from the ether to deliver us from dream into bloody reality and disorienting finality.