3 Women (1977, Robert Altman)

Writer/director Altman, “third woman” Janice Rule, her cheating husband Robert Fortier and the actors who played Pinky’s parents (Ruth Nelson of Humoresque and blacklisted 30’s and 40’s director John Cromwell)? All dead now.

More similar in tone and style to 1972’s Images than to anything else I’ve seen by Mr. Altman. Unlike Images it’s not shot subjectively, showing the hallucinatory visions of a lead character; everything on screen is assumed to be happening. But there’s the tight psychological focus on just two characters and the slow (and sometimes overlapping) motion shots of the mystical ancient-looking paintings set to creepy flute music.

Woman 1:

Story goes that three sad women with names similar to “Millie” meet in a small California town (desperate, pathetic but high-spirited single Shelley Duvall, childish Sissy Spacek, and Janice Rule, a painter pregnant by her cheating husband). After each of two harsh breaks in their routine (Spacek’s attempted suicide and ensuing coma, then Rule’s stillborn birth attended by the other two), the women assume different identities. First Spacek becomes an unleashed and attractive version of Duvall’s character and Duvall becomes withdrawn and passive, then in the finale, the three move in together (the husband having met a mysterious shooting death) assuming the roles of daughter, mother and grandmother and speaking in spookily robotic tones. D. Sterritt says the ending “presents a parody of American family life as desolate as it is surreal.”

Woman 2:

Good movie, but I found it a little slow and wondered at the symbolism. Lots of humor, absolutely perfect performances by a post-Carrie Spacek and pre-Shining Duvall, and an extreme yellow-and-purple color palette.

Spacek uses Duvall’s social security number in her job application, an early sign of the current identity-theft crisis!

Woman 3:

Altman: “I’m trying to reach toward a picture that’s totally emotional, not narrative or intellectual, where an audience walks out and they can’t say anything about it except what they feel.”


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