(director/writer: Eva Vitija; cinematographer: Siri Klug; editor: Rebecca Trösch; music: Noël Akchoté; cast: Gwendoline Christie (voices Patricia Highsmith/narrator), Patricia Highsmith; Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Franziska Sonder, Maurizius Staerkle Drux, Carl-Ludwig Rettinger; Zeitgeist Films/Kino Lorbo; 2022-Swiss/German-in English, German, French with English subtitles)
“Fascinating biopic documentary on the great American writer Patricia Highsmith, whose many novels were made into film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The Swiss filmmaker Eva Vitija (“Self”/”My Life as a Film”) is the director-writer of this fascinating biopic documentary on the great American writer Patricia Highsmith, whose many novels were made into film. She’s an engaging figure in queer cinema literature, who led an openly gay life. The list of her books made into illustrious films include the script from her 1948 novel, which became one of Hitchcock’s great ones, Strangers on a Train (1951), René Clément’s Purple Noon (1960) and Highsmith’s third book filmed by Wim Wenders The American Friend (1977).
The documentary shows a sequence from one of her best book adaptions, made by Anthony Minghella, in his 1999 The Talented Mr. Ripley, where Matt Damon plays the con man closet homosexual character of Tom Ripley (someone Highsmith identifies with greatly) who finds a reason to kill the Jude Law character he was hired by his father to safely bring back home.
Using Gwendoline Christie to be the author’s voice and the film’s narrator, she views Highsmith through her diaries, her friends and the eyes of many of her actress lovers over the years to give us a richly detailed exposition of her life.
We note that Pat’s second novel, in 1952, published under the nom de plume Claire Morgan and titled as “The Price of Salt” (later renamed “Carol” and much later made into a film directed by Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Mara Rooney) was her only openly queer novel published in her lifetime. Lesbians loved the book because it gave voice to their true needs.
Highsmith was born in 1921 in Fort Worth Texas (died in 1995 in Locarno, Switzerland). We note she always had a strained relationship with her mother, who at first tried to abort the birth by ingesting turpentine during pregnancy and ten days before her birth divorced her German artist father, Plangman. She abandoned Pat at birth to live in Texas with her grandmother while she moved to NYC, and in 1924 married Pat’s American artist stepfather Highsmith in New York. At age 6 Pat joined mom and stepfather in NYC. Later, as a young adult, mom made her feel guilty about being gay, and the two never reconciled.
The film acknowledges how Pat lived in Greenwich Village from 1940 to 1942 and while there became a proficient writer, and while still residing in the city she graduated from Barnard.
The film also includes many radio and video interviews with Highsmith herself. The story is sad only because Pat searched all her life for a mother’s love she never received. The film is more about the woman herself than the use of her books as material for screenplays.
Played at the Provincetown Film Festival
REVIEWED ON 8/10/2022 GRADE: B+