Friday, 23 October 2009

Film Review: The Apartment

Split almost entirely between two buildings in New York, each home to a different type of male-affronted skullduggery, The Apartment, written, directed and produced by the great Billy Wilder, symbolized the dominant belief of the great man; that all a great film requires is a great script. However, if your leads are the fantastic Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine, it sure helps.

Lemmon is at his wry, self-effacing best as C.C.Baxter, a lonely insurance-firm desk-jockey, who divides his time between admiring from afar Maclaine's sweet and winsome lift-attendant, Miss. Kubelik, and lending the key to his apartment to colleagues who require his convenient Upper West Side apartment to spend some quality time with their mistresses. Baxter keeps stum, predicting correctly that by greasing the palms of his superiors with free use of his apartment he will shoot up the corporate ladder. When Sheldrake, the smarmy boss with all the charm of a used-car salesman and all the empathy of a snake, becomes aware of this arrangement, he immediately solicits use of the apartment to romance Miss. Kubelik.

Lemmon is quite excellent at portraying the terribly lonely C.C Baxter, adeptly masking his unrequited love for Miss. Kubelik underneath a cheery disposition and quirky manner. At times, this film is heartbreaking; in one such scene Baxter waits like a master-less puppy outside a theatre for a prearranged date with Miss. Kubelik, horribly unaware that she is mid-cocktail with Sheldrake. Bill Wilder once said, 'If you're going to tell people the truth, be funny...,' and that the Apartment adroitly straddles the tightrope of irony and tragedy sustains the film for its 2-hour-plus runtime.

The Apartment is emotionally rewarding because the audience is drawn into a relationship with Baxter. Because of Miss Kubelik's seeming reluctance to choose the right man – Kiss him Shirley, Kiss him! - and because Kubelik seems to be oblivious to Baxter's loneliness or obvious attraction towards her means that the film is empathy-inducing but never manipulative.

Produced in that era when successful films were successful because they were written well, and before directors could rely on special effects – or even colorization, which Wilder famously despised - to tide over any dramatic lulls, The Apartment is a classic of cinema. Though thematically gutsy for a romantic comedy, with recurring motifs including corporate ethics, adultery, infidelity and suicide, it is one such motif which will lead Baxter to eventual happiness, forcing him to reconsider the use of his apartment as a no-go area for morals and ethics, and choose between his career or the love of his life. With one of these options represented by the slimy, adultering Mr. Sheldrake, and one by Miss. Kubelik, I think he makes the right decision. And the devil-may-care immorality that dominates the personalities of all but the two main players in this romance is washed away with an innocent, childlike game of gin rummy on New Year's Eve.

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