James Ivory’s A Room with a View is one of those films I’m constantly rewatching. It’s incredibly easy to sit through and just let oneself be lost in its numerous charms. From the painterly exterior photography by Tony Pierce-Roberts to the wit of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s script, adapted from E. M. Forster’s seminal work, the film is an exquisite, if immensely conventional, piece of filmmaking.
I had a collection of ideas I thought I was going to explore with this post, like the way the film builds itself around a contrast of interiors and exteriors (rooms and views), the detail of the period design and its inherent fussiness, the way Italian art and Italy itself are almost fetishized by the camera and the text, etc. In the end, though, I decided to follow the example of the film itself and ignore such intellectual posturing and let myself be guided and consumed by simple pleasure.
I do believe that the film, and the work from which it’s adapted, is, in part, a sort of celebration of letting go of repression and enjoying life’s pleasures. It's almost begging us, the audience, to stop lying to ourselves about our own desires and to let go from the stifling rules that we and our society impose on our own behavior. Maybe I’m being hopelessly simplistic and even naïve, but that’s what I got from my latest viewing of the film. Following this train of thought, I therefore decided to invest my attention in the aspects of the film that, independently of any intellectual argumentations, I most responded to, and that’s, quite honestly, its humor and delightful breeziness.
Despite what one might think, if one has never watched A Room with a View, the film is a comedy, a romantic comedy to be more precise. It’s dressed as a period piece and full of almost satirical dialogue, that’s true, but this is no The Golden Bowl (god no) and not even a Howards End. If anything, the film seems to find enjoyment and humor in its occasional bouts of self-seriousness in a way that reminds me of some parts of Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. The reaction shots, and the way the director favors them, are particularly indicative that even in the more serious portions of Lucy Honeychurch’s (Helena Bonham-Carter) romantic drama there’s levity to be found - I could have filled this post with Bonham-Carter’s reaction shots from the scenes she shares with Daniel Day-Lewis or Maggie Smith.
And speaking of Maggie Smith, she’s the ultimate symbol of the film’s humor, making (poor) Charlotte Bartlett into one of her most remarkable creations and an indispensable part of the film’s comedic construction. She’s unbelievably perfect in this film and surprisingly different from what you’d expect from Maggie Smith in a period comedy. The confidence and superiority that seems to be a mainstay of her bitter rich old lady shtick is nowhere to be found in her Charlotte. Instead she’s a repressed spinster who seems to continuously yearn for some excitement in her life, always seeming to bubble over in spouts of badly hidden giddiness anytime someone gives her some attention. I adore her! Honestly, the entire film could have been about Charlotte in Italy, reminiscing about her past with Miss Eleanor (Judi Dench) while sitting on a hill outside of Florence.
Following that train of thought, this is my favorite shot:
It’s certainly not a very complex choice, but it’s one that fills me with joy. The image is visually beautiful with the Italian countryside enveloping the two friends, the costumes are pristine and precisely designed, the actresses are at the top of their game and the moment itself is infinitely charming.
A Room with a View is a sort of emergency film for when I’m feeling down. Few things cheer me up more than Maggie Smith’s facial expressions in this shot. Her smile while thinking about a story of her past is joined by Dench behaving like a teenager hearing a naughty story, everything’s just perfect and immensely joyous.
To me this film is like an old friend, always there to cheer me up, so what better image to choose for a best shot than one featuring Smith and Dench, two real life best friends playing two friends having a grand time on a sunny day in Italy?