Monday, March 7, 2022

Film Club Featurette: Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)

All of us have had the experience of being told -- usually as children -- that our confident accounting of reality is importantly wrong. We saw something other than what we thought; the movie was a television show; the friendly uncle was an adopted cousin. Some of us have been disabused in these ways by a much more formalized peer pressure, be it academic or official, and sometimes those experiences crackle in our memory with the photographic resonance of trauma. So imagine the experience of having it strongly suggested that you've imagined the existence of your own child. 

Imagine having this outrage repeatedly implied, insinuated, eventually flat-out told directly to your face, by such would-be authority structures as an august police inspector, a posh boarding school, your landlord and your flesh and blood. Imagine suffering this indignation on your first day in a new country, with little or no mobility, no knowledge of the local custom, no independence and no friends. This, then, is our table-set for Wednesday evening's showing of one of the most ingeniously straightforward suspense thrillers in all of cinema, Otto Preminger's methodical and unforced little potboiler, *Bunny Lake is Missing* (1965), starring Carol Lynley, Keir Dullea and Laurence Olivier. 

One of the first films ever to disallow seating after the screening's start, *Bunny Lake* secured the BAFTA nomination for art direction and cinematography, and snagged the Edgar Allen Poe for best picture. Its international box-office success marked the husband-and-wife screenplay adapters John- and Penelope Mortimer as the darlings of 60s-era European psychodrama, working from the 1957 novel of the same name by Merriam Modell.   

As with all Preminger creations, the movie shimmers with taut performances all the way down the cast list to be sure. But special recognition is deserved of the two leads, who nail their competing and at least partially against-type roles with an ease of spirit that gives new dimension to the notion of acting prowess. The thwarted and increasingly frantic Lynley treads water through the murk of a chilly and uncomprehending local social custom, as careful as she can be to respect her outsider's status while repeatedly processing the offense of being told to wait while someone else with prim credentials fails spectacularly to locate her missing child. Meanwhile Keir Dullea is letter-perfect as her earnest and professionally constrained brother, caught between the rock of his sister's exasperation and the hard place of his appearance-driven and politically sensitive career. Indeed it was Dullea's performance in this picture which landed him his later casting, without a reading or audition, to play Dave Bowman in Stanley Kubrick's *2001: A Space Odyssey*. 

I hope everyone will plan to join us Wednesday evening, 9 March, at 6:31pm, for this thrilling little diamond in the 1960s-cinematic rough. It won't change anyone's mind about the primacy of fine film as a hobby, but it will strum every chord of audience appreciation and escape. Sometimes less really is more, and, through the vision of a fevered artisan like Herr Preminger, sometimes less can feel like it was never even really less at all. 

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