Tom Kalin’s second feature – like his first, 1992’s ‘Swoon’ – is a tragedy of sexual and social compulsiveness in which catastrophe grows from narcissism, alienation and a very odd idea of fun and games. Focusing on six episodes between 1946, when Tony was born, and 1972, when Barbara died, Kalin and writer Howard A Rodman (adapting Natalie Robins and Steven
M L Aronson’s book) anatomise the perils of unearned wealth and unacknowledged consequences, following their idle, rich protagonists – including Tony’s chilly father Brooks (Stephen Dillane) – from New York to Paris, Cadaques to London, a languid caravan of lost souls.
The film is gorgeously designed, photographed and costumed, and offers febrile, conflicted performances that keep the Baekelands at arm’s length from the audience and, emotionally if not physically, each other – an effect bolstered by neglecting to age the characters visually as the decades and countries pass. The approach risks excluding us from this ornate tinderbox altogether, but it’s an effective expression of the family’s cloistered, retarded existence. If Norman Bates had taken his mother on vacation, it might have played out like this.