Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Review: Sabrina

"It's all in the family."
                                         --Linus Larrabee

With the stars out, she sits at her desk draped in a silk robe and writing a letter to her father about her two years spent in France. Her hair is short and cropped freshly. The night sky's wind carries La Vie En Rose from a French accordion player through her patio double-doors (or french doors) left wide open. Her back to the picturesque view. She has a smile on her face of quaint peace, and she feels at home with herself. She's excited about the world.

Meet Sabrina Fairchild.

Billy Wilder opens his film with a voice over from Sabrina (Hepburn) and she is telling us in her calm, and explanatory voice of the considerable Larrabee estate and it's Long Island property's specifics. We see the shots of what she mentions, and the life of which she's been a witness of. After two minutes, we understand "This is as close as one could get to Heaven on Long Island." As she is merely the chauffeur's daughter, brought over from England.

At the outset of the annual Six Meter Yacht Race, the Larrabee's are throwing their annual party to celebrate it. Her lovely voice takes us through the family as they pose for a photo inside the mansion and then we meet the brothers. Linus (Bogart) and David (Holden) Larrabee. Linus is obviously not pleased he has to sit for a family photo, and we understand that David is reveling in the chance for a prestigious picture. His smile is wide and practiced--but not authentic. In his own right he is a major star; smiling is simply part of his repertoire.

We watch as he dances with a lovely and giggly blonde on the terrace of the backyard, and then, we watch as Sabrina watches David dance. He eventually persuades her away, and walks through the garden to get to where she went, the indoor tennis courts. Sabrina makes her presence known and David says, "Hello Sabrina, thought I heard someone."

"No," She says, "It was no one." And now we see her pain. Later, as she watches (or spies, pick one) David dance with his blond, this goes deeper, and we get the sense she's a bit of a masochist for watching. Upstairs, in her duplex she shares with her father above the 8 car garage, she flutters around her small space. Unsure of herself, and then she just sits. She rocks back and forth and in the chair and after a moment of relaxing, comes to a realization. She's ending her life. After a tussle in the garage with all 8 cars running and the doors closed, Linus comes in, pulls her out, buys her story of checking spark-plugs and puts her to bed. She has a big morning, she's moving to Paris for a world-renown cooking academy.

The movie's notions for Sabrina's "undying" love for David she's cultivated over time come hard, Wilder needs us to see the strength of her heart, and the whimsical qualities of her . The entire house staff understands her deep-seated feelings for David, most root for her, and father is of course always worried. We get a more refined version of fresh from Paris, and we see Sabrina's overhaul of confidence and image given to her by The Baron, a fellow chef from her Parisian cooking school. Turns out he's a well respected Frenchman with a lengthy history, stature, and the means to transform a chauffeur's daughter into a Long Island Socialite. Almost. For the playful charms inherent in Sabrina's veins are what make her adorable, and we love her for it. No Frenchman, or any other man for that matter can switch that off. And more to the point, who in the hell would want to?

When she pops back up from her 2 year stint, the plot kicks in full gear. David has been forced into a marriage with the owner of a sugar cane holder in Puerto Rico, and through his lovely blond daughter's hand is the key to a merger with Larrabee for Linus' new plastics division. After that scene and it's wonderful dialogue and exchange with Holden and Bogart using all their powers of swagger, David has no interest in marriage after 3 failed attempts. But of course he begrudgingly accepts after a great speech about economic boosting from all the jobs the merger will create. The only problem is that David wants Sabrina once she makes it onto his radar as a sultry, smiley lovely little thing; which could seriously upset Linus' plans. So he comes up with a new one.

Bogart executes his lines not with the playfully snark bite we're used to, but with Wilder softening those blows a tad, Bogart gives us one of his most touching and lovable performances, arguably the most.With light charm to the tough humor we get in his other pictures he applies this to his scenes I was intrigued by seeing him do this. And also so very proud of his legendary adaptability to anything he took on in front of the camera. The script is dazzled with many-a-superb bits of dialogue and deliveries from nearly the entire cast, nearly the entire time they are using their mouths. Linus in particular. His warning to his brother about the dangers of breaking off his marriage to the plastic princess is one of the those lines. About Sabrina's "Aren't they something" legs he tells him:
"The last pair of legs that were 'something' cost the family $25,000."

He is a calculating businessman, and has no time for women, for gallivanting or tomfoolery. He runs--in addition to his cigar smoking and martini sucking father--the family business. A giant mega-corporation full of different branches and sects all over the city and the country. We later learn that long ago he nearly took a plunge off the ledge of his 22nd floor office. For that, he only alludes to, well, not a woman. Not exactly, but we sense a bottleneck of pressure. A world-weary businessman who holds utter power in the palm of his considerable hand must have a lot of martinis and frozen daiquiris to take the daily edge off.

And yet, he doesn't, he rolls through the punches, only to roll through more again the next day. Sober, ish, and scrutinizing. Not for the power, or the money it gets him, but simply for the love of business. of commerce. Of industry and corporate excitement. A real corporate-idealist, if that exists.

This is a man who can speak of millions like juggling oranges, "Just a small knack" is what he calls his buying, selling and international million-dollar business affairs: "Well suppose I did loose it? What's at the end of a million? Zero. Zero. Zero. Nothing. A circle with a hole in it." He tells Sabrina with a grin. Calling back a conversation with his brother, he tells him if was to ever get married, "I'd have to take a Dictaphone, two secretaries and four corporation counselors alone on the honeymoon." We understand Linus' commitment to the family corporation.  That in itself is his marriage.  And he's a very committed husband in deed.

David is juiced-in as a junior partner inside Larrabee Industries. One of many cogs of the entire corporate structure. This position inside the company his family owns might as well be invisible, because so is David from the building most of the time. Linus tells Sabrina his office is actually larger then his is, "Instead of a desk he has a putting green." His father, the patriarch of the family stipends him a fat allowance and he uses this to his advantage. To afford himself a classic playboy lifestyle. And when we see him try and shed that image, we buy it completely. Holden and Hepburn give Wilder much to work with, I'll be eternally grateful for it.

As Sabrina enters the party from her first day back, we see how she looks, in her dress, in her eyes, and the way it's like a Heavenly dream, calling back her words form the opening. And as David is drawn to her like the Falcon to the Deathstar, he wraps himself around her for the first time, and they dance. Hepburn shows us just what that means to Sabrina. And she shows us well. They speak of what could have been, what cold be, and they share a feeling of togetherness the likes of which neither of them understood before. Sabrina slays David right there on the dance floor, and us as well. 

Wilder's shots are large and they fill the frame with picturesque images nearly every time. He holds them long and pans, tips and swerves to shows us the nature of his blocking, his sublime executions and how the actors deal with lengthy exposure, almost like the stage. There is no cutting. Not always. Time and time again he keeps finding ways to set us up to see only but two or three of his brilliantly written characters fill the frame, and then move inside it as he lets the celluloid roll.Wilder pushes in, holds, the actor lives, breathes, pans their vision, and then Wilder pulls out, and swings, following them around the frame.

The script from Wilder and Ernest Lehman adapted and constructed from Samuel A. taylor's own play (with his help), was done with timing perfection and  executed it even better. How writer/directors achieve this is simple, the synergy between the conception of the idea and ability to administer it. Almost every line is quotable. One bit of back n forth I can think of is between Linus and his father:
Oliver: "Alright then, we'll write her a very nice little check. Tell her to forget about David."
Linus: "She doesn't want money. She wants love."
Oliver: "I thought they discontinued that model."
Linus: "The last of the romantics. L'amour toujours l'amour."
We later realize, or I did at least, that Sabrina is not in love with David when she comes back, but merely in love with the idea of David. She is only truly intrigued and enamored in Linus' company, after her keeps whisking her away from David, so as not to upset the merger.

There quite simply isn't a scene in here that isn't perfect, a line of dialogue that doesn't belong, or isn't delivered with perfect timing and just the way it needs to be, a lighting from cinematographer Charles Lang that isn't divine, or a shot that isn't necessary or taken advantage correctly by Wilder and editor Arthur P. Schmidt. He has crafted a master's work of romantic-dramedy gold; and turned out one of Hepburn's and Bogart finest performances, period. There is no argument for it. The Academy nods for Best Director, lead actress, cinematographer, art direction, a costume win (a piece I could write in itself of how well deserved) and screenplay all make complete sense.

We watch as Sabrina leaves Long Island a girl with hope and sorrow, not a shred of style or a mind of the world. She returns with intellect, charm and a lovely and sophisticated nature that radiates from inside her and infects everyone around her. Yes, Ms. Hepburn, we're very happy to bask in the company of your Sabrina in deed.

It takes her 10 seconds to get down that hallway. Emerging from cinematographer Charles Lang's darkness into Wilder's beautiful frame she rounds the corner and walks off screen. But the lens hangs on Bogart down the other end for a few more potent extra moments.
He is now alone.
Then the shot fades to darkness. 
She loves the rain, and the smell it brings. She loves Paris, and the feelings in brings out in her, a slow moving soul awoken after years as servant girl. She sings La Vie En Rose and speaks French with a silly grin. I know a girl like that. She's really something. And so is Sabrina. They both see the world through rose-colored glasses. Sabrina understands dancing, and the way to look just the way she needs to into a gentleman's eyes. And she earnestly has a good and kind heart, and often speaks her mind, before cutting herself off in fear of revealing too much. Which involves a downward look and grabbing her hands, with the smallest of knowing smiles.

And whenever the camera gets close on Sabrina, we feel, we see, a fog? A steam? There is very so often a cloudiness in the lens, is there not? Accident? Technological hazards of the times? Was it Wilder? Was is cinematographer Charles Lang?

I'm thinking it was more Sabrina than anything else.

Munki out.

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