“The Love Witch,” Anna Biller’s blissfully strange widescreen appropriation of the trappings of sexploitation, horror and high art, is a rubicund marvel, and a deadpan madhouse comedy. Comparisons could be drawn the day long, each as wild as the next. A fiercely feminist vision of Powell and Pressburger (“The Red Shoes”) collaborating with Russ Meyer (“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”)? It’s just that bold, and singular in its swarming vision. Red and scarlet and ruby and pink and flushed cheeks dress the settings while wildly imaginative costumes rise beyond camp into plainly stated delirium. Biller stuffs lifetimes of material into her story, too, a nearly indescribable amalgam that rises from budding farrago to fully-flowered fever dream. Biller’s cinephilic fixations are part and parcel of the project, as are the dream-like performances of her dunderheaded males and Samantha Robinson as Elaine, her loving, then murderous but self-justifying lead character. All she wants to do is perfect her spells to summon the ideal, proficient lover. Cruelty widens: a male lover’s breakdown evokes Elaine’s disdainful, “What a pussy. What a baby. No one was ever there when I cried my heart out. No one ever comforted me.” Robinson is at once cold and fiery, her delivery forging steel. Biller recently tweeted about preparing for an interview with the Criterion Collection, and listed a few films she might talk about: Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman”; Nicholas Ray’s “Bigger Than Life” and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Gertrud.” Guess what? You could divine these films at one moment or other in “The Love Witch.” But Biller’s movie isn’t beholden to influence, it’s its own wild creature. 120m. Shown in 35mm. (Ray Pride)
“The Love Witch” opens Friday, November 25 at Siskel in its intended 35mm format. It will return Friday January 7, 2017 for another week.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.