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Posh Persona: Alex Ross Perry’s Queen Of Earth (2015) – cinema review

June 28, 2016 by Simon Kinnear in In Cinemas with 0 Comments

A psychological thriller and sort-of satire that confirms Perry as the go-to guy for literate chronicles of monied dysfunction.

1 Queen of Earth

Queen Of Earth
(Alex Ross Perry, 2015)

Psychological chamber dramas about female relationships are clearly a big thing with auteurs, since the likes of Ingmar Bergman (Persona) and Robert Altman (3 Women) made the genre their own.  In Queen of Earth, Alex Ross Perry – relative to those giants, still an up-and-comer – aims to join them.  If he doesn’t quite hit the heights, it’s another promising step in the evolution of a director to watch.

Like his previous film, Listen Up Philip, Ross is a throwback to earlier times: in fact, to the era of Bergman and Altman.  He shoots on 16mm film, he loves slow zooms and pans that roam freely around and across the actors, he doesn’t give two hoots about cookie-cutter narratives.  With its slippery flashbacks and discomforting dissolves, here’s a film whose reality is always in flux: are characters remembering, or imagining, past events?

In essence, it’s a simple enough premise: after the suicide of her father and the departure of her boyfriend, Catherine (Elizabeth Moss) goes on holiday in a lakeside retreat with best friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston).  Over the course of a week, the dynamic is complicated by the presence of a neighbour (Patrick Fugit) who has an on/off affair with Virginia, and by the curious way that the latter’s seemingly uncaring attitude to Catherine reverses the scenario from another holiday the year before, when it was Virginia hoping, in vain, for support from her friend.

The result is a pointed, very acerbic satire of entitlement: these two are friends only because they moved in the same rarefied, moneyed social circles.  It’s as if Perry had taken the basic outline of Girls, and then spiked it to induce a state of frantic, hallucinatory panic.  After Listen Up Philip, it’s clear that Perry wants to be a chronicler of affluent dysfunction, a boldly niche place to go in the age of #FirstWorldProblems.

Luckily, he’s a smart enough filmmaker not to make his chosen subject insufferable; with its obtuse sense of composition, and a brusque way with actors (Moss, especially, relishes the chance to be let off the leash), there’s a primal tactility that offsets the slightly mannered writing.  The big question now is: will Perry become a Bergman, continuing to plough this furrow with increasing depth and maturity, or an Altman, mapping his distinctive style onto more varied and adventurous subjects?

Queen Of Earth is released in cinemas on Friday 1st July.

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