The Dress

             In 1993, Twenty Bucks was released. That was a charming little
     independent film based on an unproduced 1935 script that had an
     intriguing premise: following a $20 bill as it passes from person to
     person. In 1997, Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam used the same
     conceit for
The Dress, an intriguing feature that earned the International
     Critics Prize at the 1996 Venice Film Festival.

             The film opens with an extreme close-up on a cotton plant. From
     there, the audience follows a colorfully designed dress from its inception
     as an artist's rendering through each of its owners to its eventual
     destruction. The inspiration for the design, orange leaves against a blue
     background. comes from a sari worn by the designer's neighbor, a fitting
     source, since on a metaphorical level, the film deals with karma and
     reincarnation. When the fashion designer first sees the Indian woman,
     she is coping with a violent situation: two workmen have broken into
     her home to destroy a stereo. The dress, therefore, is born of violence
     and the design carries with it a sense of fatal passion.

             One after another, the various owners undergo changes and find
     themselves or their loved ones in places of unexpected, random danger.
     The initial owner is an elderly housewife who becomes sexually aroused
     by the dress, but ultimately pays a price for wearing it. It literally flies
     off and drops into the life of a housemaid who is the mistress of an artist.
     He incorporates the design into his painting, while she catches the
     attention of a perverted train conductor. After her adventures, she gives
     the garment to charity where it is restyled and purchased by a teenager,
     who in turn also catches the attention of the same train conductor.
     In turn, it is stolen from her by a homeless woman whose boyfriend
     is a former executive at the dress company, now unemployed and
     homeless. He steals a bit of the dress as a memento. The final scene
     is at an art museum where the painting of the dress is on display
     and where by chance (or fate) the train conductor is a visitor.

The Dress functions on several levels. It is a meditation on fate
     and the vagaries of life, especially life in The Netherlands. It also raises
     links between sex and violence that plague society at the close of the
     20th Century. And there is also social commentary, the effects of
     unemployment and homelessness, that are both specific to its setting
     yet also universal. Personally, I found the design of the dress a bit
     vulgar, but I think that was the point. Director Alex van Warmerdam
     (who appears as the train conductor) has fashioned a visually satisfying
     meditation on the vagaries of the human condition. It is a film that
     gives one pause and causes one to think.

                                     Rating:        B+
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.