The House of Mirth

The past in Davies's films is a fascinating place to visit, but you wouldn't necessarily want to live there. The House of Mirth vividly evokes Edith Wharton's 1905 New York as an enclosure of luxurious anxiety, far from the pretty fancies of the standard costume romance. Gillian Anderson plays Lily Bart, looking like something out of a Sargent painting, but lacking both money and matrimonial prospects. Her circumstances bind as tight as a corset-Anderson seems always to be struggling for breath-and every move she makes only straitens the laces. Pulling them tighter are Eric Stoltz, Lily's beloved, cruel in his cowardice; Dan Aykroyd, a wealthy boor with debts to collect; a viperish Laura Linney; and Eleanor Bron, aunt and enforcer of the social order. Davies's fluid visual style and an elegiac haze of cigarette smoke don't mellow the bitterness of the dialogue or soften the lesson of Lily's fall, that propriety is an insult to human dignity.

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