I hadn't seen it in ages. It is still visually stunning. It's still chillingly creepy and vicious, the humor poisonous, bless Harold Pinter. (I remember the elation some of us felt last year when we learned the news of his Nobel Prize. Go Harold!) And Dirk Bogarde is so unbelievably perverse and resentful and mean, it is sheer joy to see such excellence, such intelligence, such elegant command, such perfection. A master of the minimal. The undisputed genius of the unspoken. So evil. He rooooooocks in this movie.
And everybody else follows suit. James Fox is excellent and so is Sarah Miles. I was thinking that it's not easy to peg this movie down. If it is a condemnation of the absurdity of the British class system, the thorn on the side is that the servant is such a terrible bastard.
In a way, this must be the fear of the upper crust, The Revenge of the Serfs. The servants finally taking over and exacting their long awaited revenge. The beauty here is that the servant is a worse snob than the master and equally revolting. He acts out of a sense of setting things right yes, of getting his due but not out of justice or righteousness, let alone fairness or decency. It actually seems just bitter, mean and corrupt, like the system itself, which makes this quite a provocative film. You reap what you sow it seems to say. Raise a servant class and it will take your eyes out. I wonder if it was wishful thinking on the part of Harold Pinter. On the other hand, without the class politics, it is a great study on psychological manipulation. It is a bit over the top, but it works. And as Bea points out, must have influenced Roman Polanski greatly. I'm checking dates on the imdb, because I'm pretty sure Repulsion came after and there are many stylistic echoes between the two films.
Many people left during the movie because it was hard to read the subtitles and because the pacing is rather glacial and perhaps because the French may have little patience with the British stiff upper lip, which in this movie is stiffened to a gelid peak. Also, La Villette is a very working class area so it's not like you have a bunch of snobby eggheads in the park applauding the rise of the masses. Still, at the end, those who stayed actually applauded. That made my day. And then we all ran like maniacs to catch le dernier metro because service is interrupted weekdays at 1 am. That's how it is.