Betrayal – 1983

betrayalFollowing on from 5×2, today I watched another film with reversed chronology; Betrayal. With a screenplay written by Harold Pinter, this is possibly the most accurate portrayal of the famed “stiff upper lip” the English are so famous for. The dialogue is twisted, laced with hidden intent and deceit. Given that most of the film is shot in close up on one of three actors there is a feeling of intense intimacy, even a sense of intrusion that becomes more and more uncomfortable for the viewer as a result of the reversed structure. At every point we know more than any of the characters on screen. We see the pain they are setting up for themselves and the tragic transparency of their lives.
Jeremy Irons gives a stellar performance as one half of a long-standing affair. He is naïve and oblivious. While he continues his affair with his best friend’s wife he fails to notice the sadness of either of the others. None of the problems are ever directly addressed, and so despite their blatancy they just pass by, never truly coming to light. Great worlds of pain are acted in a single glance and yet no one moves towards a brighter goal.

While watching this I was reminded of  Madame de… , yet where that film showed relationships estranged by a lack of communication Betrayal shows relationships smothered by too much communication. Too much is spoken and far too little said. The games that the characters play on each other with truth and lies become their own downfalls.
Perhaps this is going too far, but I felt while watching this that there was something quintessentially English in this film. Of course the setting is English, as are the principal actors. However there seems to be something deeper in it. Compared to Madame de… , which on the surface is a similar story of amoral upper class men and women having affairs, there is very little scandalisation. None of the love seems to be consummated or even overtly passionate. Emotions are left to be experienced in private, rather than in public altercations and displays.  This dispassionate, monotonous and dead pan approach to love loss and betrayal is what makes the film so chilling and ultimately so true.


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