Deep down, all of us suffer the affliction of nostalgia. Described in Woody Allen’s Moonlight in Paris as “Golden Age thinking, the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in”, we’re all guilty of wanting to go back in time. But I don’t think this thought is exclusively ‘hipster’ – there’s no shame in having a greater admiration for the music, films, fashion and arts in general of the past. It’s wholly understandable, because things were simply better back then. Pioneers in the arts made breakthroughs that simply cannot be matched today. Golden Age thinkers rejoice, because we’ve got a film for you that will transport you back to the 1960s…
Independent filmmaker Anna Biller clearly shares this love for the past, evident in every single frame of her 2016 masterpiece The Love Witch. The film follows modern-day witch Elaine (the darkly beautiful Samantha Robinson) who uses spells to get men to fall in love with her – but for what reason? To reveal any more would be to spoil the film’s dark surprises, but luckily we’ve still got plenty to discuss without touching upon the anymore of the plot.
The first thing you’ll notice from watching the trailer alone is the film’s utterly gorgeous visuals which faithfully capture the campy 1960s and 70s sexploitation era the film is affectionately paying tribute to. Shot on 35mm and highly stylized with elaborate sets and costumes, the film’s saturated colour palette is the most beautiful thing you’ve seen since the good old days of Technicolour – a style that I think should absolutely still be the norm. Despite this 1960s look, the film’s narrative doesn’t have a particular focus on era – characters use new phones and drive modern cars, but look and dress like they’re in the 1960s. This only adds to the enigmatic feel of the film, while also creating a subtly effective twist on audience expectations.
These love letters to bygone eras of cinema are usually prime examples of style over substance, but The Love Witch is arguably substance over style – and that’s saying something, considering the immense style on offer here. Anyone who knows Anna Biller will know she’s a leading force in feminist cinema, and The Love Witch certainly has a message, much like her 2007 cult favourite Viva. We shan’t go into detail here because a) there’s a hell of a lot to say and b) I’m certainly no expert, but the female perspective throughout the film is troublingly uncommon for modern cinema – especially considering we live in an era where the Bechdel Test is a thing. We need more films like this and far more opportunity for women in cinema, but that’s another argument for another day.
As ever, Rotten Tomatoes verdict sums up the film perfectly in one sentence: “The Love Witch offers an absorbing visual homage to a bygone era, arranged subtly in service of a thought-provoking meditation on the battle of the sexes”. It would be impossible to summarise the film any better. The visual flair is enough to make the film a near-masterpiece on the surface alone, and the substance beneath the carefully constructed sets, stunning costumes and Technicolor beauty is enough to elevate it to the level of perfection. This is one you cannot miss. Dark, twisted and visually gorgeous, The Love Witch could just go down as one of the best films of the year. 5/5
The Love Witch at CeX
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