Whirlpool ★★★★½

The opening shot looks mundanely common but the space and flow into the department store include two moments where what our eyes are trained to see suddenly shift and we follow something else. Perspective becomes misdirection, which moves from the mise-en-scene to the narrative level, a story about the literal control of sight and thus the mind. Routinely dismissed compared to the other Premingers of this era, perhaps because of absurdity of the plot (which is not that different from Gene Tierney's magical entrance in Laura ), but beloved by Godard and Rivette as well as The Cinema McManhon. Perhaps it's because of all the Preminger films it sparks the closest that the film's visual structure is the core essence of the film, and all the ideas surrounding the performance styles and even the narrative itself deviate from this visual idea. It's a film built around deception—of images, of the past, of one own's self. The way Tierney blanks her face in this film is simply an incredulous image; she goes from a character whose eyes seem constantly moving, her face an expressionist canvas, to what seems to resemble a body snatcher; an absolutely lifeless face in which you see the camera driving into her as Richard Conte does, trying to rescue the woman who was.

Meanwhile, this becomes the greatest supervillain narrative ever constructed with Jose Ferrer's malicious performance, a character who always move against the camera, a disordering function in a world where psychoanalysis hopes to bring rigor and structure. Ferrer's manipulations are pulled through his voice, one that sounds just similar enough to Conte's but with a forceful magnetism to make him his opposite. The scene in which he messes with the two glasses is the rare kind that so deliberately messes with expectations of allowing one to see the psychological motivation of any action depicted on screen, only slowly paying off in the second part of the narrative (another great payoff: the simple shot of the police captain's wife's portrait as he makes the phone call near the end; communicated without emphasis).

Preminger's camera swings around, changing and reshaping the power structures of this fight for the soul of a young woman, but in the end, one of the most powerful edits I can ever recall climaxes the narrative. As Tierney slowly remembers with the help of Conte, Preminger frames her in the direct middle of the frame, and then abruptly cuts to a shot of Conte in the exact same position of the frame. It's confusing for a second, it seems as if the two have switching places, but really it's a moment where this husband and wife are finally together, seeing eye to eye and becoming truly one. It's an astonishingly simple visual idea in a film filled with complex emotions, all delivered through a phrase I hate, but I can't help but use: pure cinema.

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