Housekeeping (1987, Bill Forsyth)


I hadn’t watched this since it came out on VHS back in the late 80s, though I thought it was very good, because it seemed one of the saddest movies I’ve seen

It still is, and yet saying that doesn’t do justice to this paean to the sweet abyss of despair. It’s got quirky characters like Forsyth’s other films, but there’s no safe warm place in it — no humor really — to keep part of yourself at a distance.

It touches a part of me no other film touches, maybe that’s just me.

Christine Lahti is just about perfect, so if you like her work and don’t know this, try to find it on tape, since it’s seen no release on disc yet.

I rented this because of something I read recently, I thought at Rosenbaum’s site, but I can’t find it now.

Here’s Jim Emerson though.

All of Bill Forsyth’s films (“That Sinking Feeling,” “Gregory’s Girl,” “Local Hero,” “Comfort and Joy”) have been about eccentrics, who are viewed with an enchantingly Gaelic brand of bemused and generous forbearance. “Housekeeping,” his first US film, takes a darker, more complex view of idiosyncratic behavior, and is all the richer for it; it’s the first Great American Film directed by a Scotsman. To the loopy highlanders in Forsyth’s other movies, eccentricity is a way of life, something to be accepted naturally, as part of the landscape.

But “Housekeeping” takes place in a small backwoods US town where greater emphasis is placed on the social importance of fitting in. Some audiences may find the picture’s gravity and ambiguity frustrating, but that’s precisely what makes it such a moving (and disturbing) experience. Forsyth doesn’t see Sylvie as simply a healthy or an unhealthy influence on her nieces; she’s both. Much of “Housekeeping” is funny in the quirky, off-kilter manner of Forsyth’s earlier movies, but the overriding tone is a somber one, suffused with melancholy. This movie, photographed in deep shades of blue, brown and gray, evokes a sadness so profound that after a while your bones begin to ache.

Couldn’t say it better than that.


2 Responses to “Housekeeping (1987, Bill Forsyth)”

  1. 1 Nancy
    January 2, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    I had this book!!! Picked it up in a curbside haul that was destined for eBay. I recall looking at it and thinking…”kind of looks interesting, maybe I should read it before selling it”…but since I tend to fall asleep so easily while reading, I passed and sold it. Phooey! Maybe I’ll try to find the VHS while my player’s still working…and maybe I’ll think twice now about selling books that peak my interest in some strange way. :o\

  2. 2 underpass
    January 2, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    haven’t read the book, but marylynne robinson is very highly regarded. i have her book on plutonium contamination in the UK (Mother Country), but haven’t finished it. she hasn’t published many books, but when she does they’re a publishing event, at least for some.

    the movie kicks ass, too.

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