ANNA Biller’s follow up to her debut feature Viva (2007) is a deeply artistic study of female psychology, shot in spellbinding 35mm.
The film focuses on Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a devastatingly beautiful witch who enjoys making ‘love potions’. It starts with her driving to a small California town to start life afresh following the suspect death of her ex-husband.
When Elaine arrives, she is invited out to a stylish Victorian Tea Room by her friend Trish (Laura Waddell) – a dazzling introduction to the multi-talented Biller’s tremendous flair for set and costume design that shines through in this ode to 60’s and 70’s Technicolor.
As a harpist serenely plucks, the two discuss their differing outlooks on relationships with men and uncover many of the feminine traumas that are probed throughout the film. ‘You sound as if you’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy,’ is career-driven Trish’s response to Elaine’s deadpan claim that she aims to fulfil men’s sexual desires with the hope of unlocking their ‘love potential’.
For all of her talk about love, we soon find out that Elaine has an unnervingly methodical – and deadly – approach to her encounters with men. It is reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson in 2013’s Under the Skin, as these hapless men fall prey to the witch’s enchanting sexuality – as well as a wicked dose of her hallucinogen-filled potions.
Despite the casualties, Elaine remains resolute in her quest to find a strong man who can give her the unwavering love that she desires, without crumbling into a feeble mess. When police officer Griff (Gian Keys) comes to her door asking tough questions about one of her missing victims, Elaine believes she has finally found the man to satisfy her needs.
The Love Witch is a work of tonal genius by Biller. The auteur strikes an absorbing balance that finds room for bizarre occult rituals, blubbering men and period jokes, while continuing to pose powerful intellectual inquiries into feminine constructs.
This is certainly a film that will benefit from the multiple viewings and close readings that its inevitable cult status will bring.
If anything, Robinson’s bewitching retro acting alone is worth a second viewing. The British-born actress leads the way in an impressive cast that skillfully gives voice to Biller’s cutting satire.
I dare you to take a sip of Biller’s cinematic potion. You will undoubtedly fall head over heels for The Love Witch.
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The Love Witch – 4/5
Dir: Anna Biller
Scr: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Robert Seeley, Stephen Wozniak
DOP: M David Mullen
Music: Anna Biller