The Vermont Cynic

“Phantom Thread” enchants and surprises

Hunter McKenzie, Arts Columnist

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Silk, lace, muslin, taffeta, chiffon and satin.

In every instant of “Phantom Thread,” fashion pours out of the frame and couture overwhelms the eye with bold elegance.

There are sleeves, crisp collars, bow ties, trimming, devilish coats and dress trains trailing behind. Fabric, and the bodies that give it shape enchants us.

I admit that when first entering the world of “Phantom Thread,” I half-expected to encounter a swooning, Oscar bait-y, old-school romance.

Instead, I was met with a strange, alluring, often-funny film about secrets, sewing, obsession and the way power sways within relationships.

Set in 1950s London, the film follows designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), who makes dresses for the stars, with the assistance of his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville).

Reynold’s life is disrupted by the arrival of Alma (Vicky Krieps) who becomes his lover and muse, and soon unravels his carefully constructed lifestyle.

Writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson, delicately crafts a film that is difficult to pin down, a kind of whirlwind in the style of Hitchcock.

This is Anderson’s first outing as his own cinematographer.

What is most astonishing is his ability to capture suspense where it wouldn’t usually belong in the movies: a character loudly buttering toast at the breakfast table, nervous models getting dressed for a fashion show, thread weaving deliciously through fabric.

Dense and engrossing, “Phantom Thread” moves along elegantly until it lags in its last half hour. It  picks up and punches hard in its final moments.

Day-Lewis gives a strong performance, capturing the artist with a signature ferocity. He masterfully builds a character who, accustomed to the artificiality within his own profession and daily routine, prioritizes beautiful objects over living, breathing people.

Day-Lewis announced this would be his last film in a statement issued by his agent this past June.

Because of his acclaim, audiences might have been keen to focus on Day-Lewis, but it is the women of “Phantom Thread” that take over and make it worth seeing.

Krieps shines as Alma — restrained and strong-willed throughout — she holds every scene she’s in. Unwavering, only a deep blush on her cheeks reveals any sign of emotional turmoil.

Claustrophobia, conflict and purpose blend together in her performance. The ultimate way in which she finds autonomy in her life with Woodcock is sublime, highlighting the film’s effort to undo toxic masculinity.

Supported by handsome visuals and a tip-toeing piano score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood — which buries itself under your skin — there is something stark and opulent about this film that is exciting and puzzling.

In the way that a dress can be both beautiful and trivial, “Phantom Thread” shows how romance can be at once hypnotizing and viciously exasperating.

It doesn’t present any easy answers, but it sneaks up on you. It’s hard to shake it off after it’s over.

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“Phantom Thread” enchants and surprises