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.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.