Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

(Nicholas Gessner, 1976)
Where most 'international' cinematic ventures are crass exercises in lowest-common-denominator mathematics, this film is a remarkable fusion: clean-cut North American narrative meets European philosophical desperation. You can't imagine how the movie occurred to anyone, and you can't quite believe you're even watching it. It's almost like an evil twin to Jodie Foster's other Canadian tax-shelter film of the same year, Echoes of a Summer: a made-for-TV type movie about a resourceful kid in a small town and her precocious little friend, only in this one there's bodies in the basement, Martin Sheen tortures her hamster, and the beloved controlling father figure has gone away for good, leaving only his warped imprint on Foster's brain. Her project is to resist the corruption of 'normal' society by any means necessary, and the slowly revealed outcome is devouring solitude and emotional self-devastation. By the time we get to the mind-bending final scene, the horror is complete: unable to envision any escape beyond the horrific desperation her father has implanted, she fails to achieve even that; and yet there in front of her is ample evidence that the outside world really is irredeemably evil. Gessner (where'd he come from? where'd he go?) takes us all the way into Foster's head without losing his balance for a second. The style is simple yet impossibly sneaky, just like the script, just like every one of the performances.

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