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Movie Reviews

3 Women



Released: 3rd April 1977

Director: Robert Altman

Stars: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule

Certificate: 15

Reviewer: Philippe Ostiguy

I seldom review films I do not enjoy for two reasons: one, I am a nerd and conduct extensive research before picking one to watch and, two, I prefer sharing passion to disappointment. Yet, though many pictures rivet and thrill me, I just as seldom award five star ratings; I save them. I save them for films that are not content with doing things right, instead doing so by creating something entirely new. A world. A genre, or a higher level of an existing genre. An atmosphere, a feeling, a transcendent character or line. A state of mind.

3 Women took me aback. I expected a curiosity, perhaps an interesting experiment, but never a haunting one-film revolution. Robert Altman said of the films’ origins that they lie in a series of dreams he had. This is not difficult to believe, for the film is still a dream – soft and fragile, real but unexplainable. A dream designed to hypnotize only. Questions concerned with logic and reason will invariably be met with unjustifiable hypotheses, and a wall. A soft, watery blue wall covered with surprising paintings. A wall designed to hypnotize.

Millie Lammoreaux (Duvall) is an impeccably groomed physical therapist who talks too much and tries too hard. She wants to be an “it” girl. She is a joke to everyone. She believes she is an “it” girl. Entirely unaware of her peers’ perception, Millie pathetically carries on priding herself on the location of her parking spot and the dinner parties no one cares to show up for; the ones she spends hours preparing. She is a joke to everyone – everyone but Pinky Rose. Pinky (Spacek) is Millie’s odd coworker-slash-roommate with no personality and no past, and she idolizes Millie so. Eerily, she sneaks her way so closely into her ideal’s life that she ends up becoming her. Literally, with her social security number and everything. Both actresses, Duvall especially, are so good that their characters become nearly mythical, elevated well beyond plot devices and fitting into Altman’s decor like a glove. The title’s third woman is a mysterious pregnant artist painting the aforementioned frescos on all surrounding surfaces, a woman with whom Millie and Pinky will connect in strange ways.

There is no explaining that connection, the final scene. There is no explaining the purpose of the film, not with certainty. But there is something beautiful in the way 3 Women oh so delicately sways your mind away from rationality and to sensation. Floats it to somewhere it has never been. Maybe my head and heart were on just right and perfectly vulnerable to 3 Women’s magic that evening for I find my enthusiasm difficult to defend with words, but “unforgettable” comes to mind. At worst, you’ll get a curiosity. An interesting experiment.

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