Consider the fascinating documentary To love Highsmith, some kind of film on film, but once or thrice removed. Those familiar with literature know Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) as a distinctive novelist who found a way to channel existentialism and elements of suspense into tales that coldly challenge morality and social norms. Moviegoers of all intensities are familiar with the best-known of the many screen adaptations of his work, namely Hitchcock’s. Strangers on a trainwho actually launched his career, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Todd Haynes Carol.
This latter film, with a typical performance by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as a young lover, represents a critical aspect of Highsmith’s personal life and a central feature of this documentary. She was a lesbian at a time that frowned upon such an orientation, raised in the heavily hetero-rodeo Texas family and estranged from a cold-hearted mother. She lived her life mainly in a closed and semi-closed way, even writing the famous lesbian novel The price of salt under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan, later republished under her own name, as Carol.
True to the title of the documentary, Swiss filmmaker Eva Vitija has created a fascinating and artful tapestry of a biography on Highsmith, in a form anchored by interviews with Highsmith’s former lovers – the ‘loving’ cast. Vitilja also weaves in excerpts from Highsmith’s later diary entries and interviews (at one point she addresses, in a diary, “the deep indignity of being questioned, like a patient on a table, where the doctor says “take off all your clothes””).
Enhancing the blend and sense of the period are elements of archival footage and colorful backdrops such as rodeo clips, reminders of Highsmith’s haunting Texas memories. Refreshingly, Noël Akchoté’s earthy but enigmatic musical score – featuring guitar greats Bill Frisell and Mary Halvorson – provides a sonic plot suited to the subject matter, unlike the generic music beds often lathered on the docs.
The talented Miss Highsmith has written five novels about Tom Ripley, a charismatic character who gets away with murder. Ripley has been said to be his alter ego. These revealing elements and more await you in this oddly tantalizing document. Loving Highsmith opens at the Riviera Theater on September 23.