Robert Altman / UK USA/ 1972 / 101 mins
Available on Blu-ray Mon 19 Mar 2018
Images is part of Altman’s trilogy of 70s movies (That Cold Day in the Park and 3 Women are the others) that look at women in mental distress. Catherine (Susannah York) is a children’s book writer and her story of unicorns and Hobbit-like creatures is told in cloying voice-over. She and her husband (Rene Auberjonois) leave their chic, white apartment for a darksome country cottage. We are discombobulated from the start – where is this house amid rolling hills – the Lake District, Wales, France, Canada (it’s Ireland)? Why does Catherine allow her mate to speak to her so nastily? Why does she not tell him to get his own dinner?
Then there’s a stranger in the house. It’s her former lover (Marcel Bozzuffi) who’s been dead some three years. Did she kill him? Is this a dream, a ghost, or a mental disturbance? Is the husband, who is a bit of a joker, playing some elaborate attempt at gaslighting? Then Catherine sees another guy she knew and his precocious teenage daughter. More disturbing still, when she looks out the window she sees herself on a distant hill and by the waterfall. Altman has no easy answers.
York gives an excellent, nuanced performance. The cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond) captures the drizzly landscape well. Much of the dialogue is improvised and there is a jangling, modernist score by John Williams (with sounds by Stomu Yamash’ta). A stylish, troubling movie somewhat showing its age, whose leaden use of wind chimes and mirrors used to suggest disturbance is simply ham-fisted. Instead of fully sympathising with the heroine the viewer is too often distracted by the set decor. And as a credible exploration of paranoid schizophrenia (or, come to that female complexity) Images leaves a lot to be desired.