Not since Peter Greenaway’s Drowning by Numbers (1988) has a camera filmed vases of flowers with such exquisite, painterly precision. Véronique Melery, set decorator for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, extends this floral life into wallpaper, the patterns on china tea sets, and the chintz-covered furniture. She imagines a garden everywhere in the home Cyril (Lesley Manville) and Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis) Woodcock share. At first, you mistake their shared intimacy for that of a married couple — but in fact, they’re siblings who run a fashion house together in 1950s London.
With her cold smiles and tightly wound curls, Cyril minds the clients. Meanwhile, her brother, the hands-on couturier, obsesses over dress silhouettes, sketching them endlessly at the breakfast table. When he picks up Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress at a country cafe, she becomes the latest muse he can fit his creations on. This shimmering film is an antidote to Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, in which the egotistic, bullying male selfishly sacrifices his female helpmate for his art. Here, the earthy Alma embraces, then rebels against the aesthetic sensibilities of the Woodcocks and their lavish Eden. But she’s fighting a pose and a sneer, pretensions masquerading as real people. Reynolds and his sister may be wearing luxurious tweeds, wools, and satins, but as characters they’re as stiff and soulless as hulls made from the plainest muslin.
Opens Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.