Anna Biller is no stranger to the topic of femininity, especially as it relates to patriarchal structured societies, and male masculinity. In fact, just a cursory glance of her filmography would indicate this very topic being central to the over-arching themes and stories being told in her work, permeating throughout many facets of each individual production. Additionally, you'd be remiss not to recognize that another commonality exists across these same films; an incredibly striking vintage-style technicolor aesthetic. So while it's no surprise then that her latest feature-film would follow suit, we certainly didn't anticipate the degree to which it would masterfully do so; and shame on us. Its obvious now that looking back at Biller's career, it was only natural things played out the way they did; with The Love Witch effortlessly marrying the two elements that signify Anna Biller's distinctly unique brand of modern film-making.
Opening with a gorgeous shot of the film's alluring protagonist as she drives along the west coast, thinking back on the troubles of a previous life she's left behind, we quickly learn of both the emotional and mental baggage Elaine (hypnotically played by Samantha Robinson) carries with her into this new life. We're shown glimpses of a former lover, a relationship that went awry, Elaine's desperate search of solace and answers, and with her newfound enlightenment coming way of her initiation into a welcoming witch coven, her determination to make things right in San Francisco. And she's rehabilitated, at least, her therapist says so. But just as soon as a picture of hope is painted for us, Elaine says, "...men are very fragile, they can get crushed down if you assert yourself in anyway...you have to be very tricky"; an indication that her key component to the solution in solving the puzzle of true love, is manipulation. Our Love Witch it would seem, is more than likely headed on a path towards a fateful repeat of her painful history, rather than one of any meaningful healing.
Without giving much more away, the film follows the determined brunette on her quest for what she believes is true love. Equipped with her knowledge of witchcraft, alchemy, and arresting good looks, she lures various men into brief intoxicating relationships in the hopes of having them pan out into becoming that which she desires most. The string of dopey, blabbering - which, as it turns out, is a hilarious side-effect of man faced with both raw emotion and deep inflection - and soon, dead saps left behind in her wake, serve as proof that Elaine truly is as she puts it, "addicted to love" (lending insight to her infatuation with the idea of it - rather than in actually obtaining it). This violent cycle continues with seemingly no end in sight, until a meeting with the handsome detective Griff (who's spearheading an investigation prompted by the very events Elaine is tied to) draws the question, could this finally be the one?
Anna Biller crafts a compelling tale that's as complexly layered as it is technically proficient, and visually arresting. A film that harmoniously weaves together narrative and thematic elements so wildly different, that if this were any other film, would only result in chaos, serving as a death knell for its production. In fact, talking about this film's unconventionality, I'm reminded of a scene in which Elaine puts together a "witch bottle" - a sort of love memento for her recently deceased lover - the ingredients of which include her own urine, a tampon covered in (her) menstrual blood, and some type of sweet-smelling herb. Not the most pleasant of combinations for something who's purpose is rooted in warm intention, but within the context of the film, it makes perfect sense. And again, much like the aforementioned witch bottle, so too is The Love Witch an amalgamation of ingredients that while on the surface, shouldn't work, yet come together to bring us something not only incredibly unique, but meaningful as well. Certainly it's no small feat tightly tying the various narrative themes together using threads of comedy, horror, and drama, ultimately delivering a film who's subject matter runs the gamut of social relevancy as it pertains to that age-old battle of the sexes. Feminism, the male gaze, infatuation, sexual hypocrisy, finding love, and the dynamics found in the power struggle between men and women in relationships, all of these are covered with brutal honesty, no matter their delivery; and Biller cannot be commended enough for pulling this herculean task off.
While the narrative complexities of The Love Witch are handled expertly enough so that any fear for "losing the plot" doesn't really become much of a worry, the film's visual prowess absolutely makes the entire production an even easier pill to swallow than it already is. From start to finish, Elaine's story is presented in a vivid, oh-so-yummy vintage style, dripping with that 1960's aesthetic Anna Biller has been known to liberally employ in her films. The Love Witch almost feels like it's been pulled from a time capsule, visually calling back to films like, "Breakfast at Tiffanys", "Rosemary's Baby" and appropriately enough, 1966's "The Witches". With a running time of just over two hours, there's a lot of film to digest; and while small lulls in the "action" can be found as a result, at the very least it's never not interesting to look at - speaking again to the vast talent of visual maestro Biller, and her ability to conduct a symphony for the eyes.
It's worth noting at this point just how consistent this film is in every regard, and while I touched upon the harmony of it's narrative themes and visual direction, each component of film-making that makes The Love Witch what it is, shares this same trait. Undeniably due to the fact that Anna Biller's exhaustive involvement in it's production extends beyond just directing. The writing, music, and editing all receive her attention and craft, with other departments assuredly incorporating her input, even if she isn't directly running them; and just short of acting in it, it's her film through-and through, make no mistake about it. Of course a great story and well written script is only going to take you so far without a competent cast to see it to it's potential, and thankfully, the talented actors and actresses involved are more than up to the task. Jeffrey Vincent Parise is playfully sensitive as Wayne, Laura Waddell's Trish is sympathetic in her timid expression and body language, Gian Keys plays detective Griff appropriately with both an air of stubbornness and arrogance, and of course there is the love witch herself, Samantha Robinson, who's every sensual move, every hypnotic gaze, every skin melting, goose-bump inducing line delivery are done with the deliberate intention of playing whoever she's interacting with like a fiddle; and when it's just her on-screen, it's really not. She's working her special kind of magic on the viewer; you, me, the audience. She's always casting a spell, always manipulating even without the use of potions or witchcraft; she's always doing exactly what she needs to do in order to get what she wants. My favorite example of this is how she patronizes the men she seduces, knowing that if she asserts herself too much, they would crumble under the pressure. So she plays to their delicate sense of pride, ego and selfishness, sweetly delivering empty words of concern so as to coddle them and keep them under her control. "Those sound like big problems baby", "There there, baby", "It must be so hard baby", all of it obvious fluff devoid of any meaingful emotion, and yet these sobbing dopes are so enamored, intoxicated and hopelessly infatuated that they can't see through it, and as a result, they eat it right up.
Not me though. Nope. Never.
After my sixth (seventh?) viewing, I quickly figured it out. I saw right through her tricks!
"You're so smart baby".
Wait a minute...