Not long ago, amid a thirteen-year gap in activity punctuated only by vanishing wisps of project rumors, it seemed that there might be only three Whit Stillman films. Today, six years into a second phase of productivity, including two films, a novelization, and an Amazon series, such fears are a thing of the past. And yet, even if he had never been heard from again, that initial Stillman trilogy would be something no one could soon forget.
The “Doomed Bourgeois in Love Trilogy” is not exactly a title as pithy as “Three Colors” or “The Dollars Trilogy.” But it encapsulates the character of Stillman’s three 1990s films, in their wistful, fatalistic, and loquacious qualities. They are also, in a very real sense, timeless. Indeed, Stillman’s work generally—excepting his latest film, Love and Friendship, a detailed Jane Austen adaptation—seem always out of place, projecting a disregard for both their intended settings and the points at which they were filmed, with a sensibility out of joint with the contemporary era.
Stillman’s first film, Metropolitan (1990), was derived loosely from the plot of Austen’s Mansfield Park, while Love and Friendship, an adaptation of her novella Lady Susan, prompted some critics, not unreasonably, to suggest that Stillman had at last found his natural era. And yet the idea that Stillman is a natural Georgian playwright who suffered the misfortune of too late a birth is far too simple. His sensibility draws upon a number of elements found singly in the work of other directors and writers but in combination nowhere else. Most of these elements aren’t exactly recent but few of them are decidedly old. There is Austen, Shakespeare, and Balzac, but also the active imprint of Fred Astaire comedies, J.D. Salinger, Woody Allen, Jim Jarmusch, and of course disco.
Read more at The American Conservative.