Arbaaz Shroff’s review published on Letterboxd:
“𝑭𝒖𝒄𝒌 𝒅𝒐𝒄𝒕𝒐𝒓𝒔. 𝑾𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒏𝒆𝒆𝒅 𝒊𝒔 𝒍𝒐𝒗𝒆. 𝑳𝒐𝒗𝒆, 𝒔𝒉𝒐𝒄𝒌𝒔, 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒍𝒂𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒕𝒆𝒓.”
2nd viewing. Cinema is definitely back!
I mean, where do I even begin. Still don't think I can write anything cohesive. So let's start with the lion in the room - Kristen Stewart.
A lion of a performance indeed, a lush & royal golden mane delicately fluttering about in the ice cold winter breeze, in contrast with the feral & ferocious body language of a beast that can never be tamed. Eyes so hypnotic they can chew up entire galaxies of your souls and a presence that is fearful of the battalion of elephants & vultures circling around, but never intimidated by them.
The range of emotions and expressions and mannerisms and subtleties she displays here is a testament to not only her hardwork and talent, but to her mind as well. It takes intelligence to act like this, cinematic intelligence, emotional intelligence - awareness of the boundless capabilities of film, of Mathon's devastatingly beautiful film grain.
There's nothing surprising in here though, she's always had these facets in her locker, if you've ever bothered to see her work that is. Then you would surely know what I'm talking about - whether it's in Personal Shopper or Clouds of Sils Maria, or from Speak and Panic Room to Into the Wild and Welcome to the Rileys, whether it's Certain Women or Camp X-Ray or heck even Charlie's Angels.
I've seen these facets of Kristen's talent, capability and intelligence scattered in all her work. As the saying goes, "Kristen Stewart has more talent in her hands than most actors have in their entire bodies." Yes her hands! The way she uses them is so nuanced and instinctual, always pay attention to the shots of her hands in films.. (Looking at you, snooker table scene!)
The difference with Spencer though is that, all these elements collide together here. She gives it all, she bares it all and holds nothing back.
I've known it for a few years now, but watching Spencer only confirms that Kristen Stewart has the strongest screen presence I've ever seen.
A genuinely outstanding performance. Mesmerising, physical, subtle, feral, nuanced, controlled, layered, meaty- all at the same time. Some of the best acting period.
Kudos to Pablo Larraín and his team as well. The way they've made Kristen look and lensed her especially, I've never seen an actor look this good on screen, both in terms of physicality and performance.
God tier filmmaking and acting! And watching it in the theaters makes it even more magnetic - a completely spiritual experience.
She is wonderfully supported by a strong cast of actors. Whether it's the light of the film Sally Hawkins who just feels like the most genuine and tender human being ever, or Sean Harris as the warm & kind-hearted chef who's always there to offer Diana some perspective and casual wisdom. Timothy Spall who's been in the game for a while now, his glare speaks volumes.
But who'll charm you the most are the child actors who play her sons. The intimate candlelit scene where they play a game called Major-Soldier is one the most adorable yet heartbreaking scenes you might see this year. The film also has a generous amount of humour and wit as well something it's not being credited for enough. Yes it's tragic and sad, but it's also incredibly warm at times.
Larraín has been trying to capture a mood-piece or a tone-poem as he says for a long time now. His films are character driven rather than mundane and literal adaptations of widely known facts. And honestly they're far better for it. But with Spencer, you feel that he has finally achieved what he has been trying throughout his career - the film transcends the myth and aura of Diana and becomes a personal experience that anyone from anywhere could relate to - a feeling that your entire life is crumbling around you. It captures her essence and makes her human.
There are so many scenes which had me absolutely at the edge of my seat - The horrifying soup scene, or the masterfully edited snooker table scene which is a conversation that plays out like a battle. The image of Diana dressed in a white gown, her head in the lavatory in her beautiful bathroom with blue tiles is one of the frames of the year.
But that montage towards the end, when Diana goes to her old home.. that was something absolutely euphoric, pure filmmaking! My heart was full watching that, I didn't know whether to clap or cheer or cry or what.
One of the most immersive and hypnotic film experiences I've ever had. I never wanted it to end. Pablo said on wrapping the film's shoot that he wanted to continue filming - he could've done this for another two months and I completely get that now. It's so well made that feeling translates out of the screen and becomes tangible for the audience. Peak cinema! Scorsese would have tears in his eyes.
Some of the best Directing I've seen in awhile. There's this engineered effortlessness to the frames created by Claire Mathon. Sometimes you are so close to Diana you can literally feel her breath on your face and even in the wider shots where the camera follows her around ghostly corridors, you are again completely put in her shoes, as if you are her or with her. It's one of the most gorgeous looking films I've seen, every frame a work of art, and the 16mm film grain is absolutely stunning, say what you want about the progress digital cameras have made but the palpable & gritty quality of film is unmatched and used here to perfection. Kristen Stewart's face is made for cinema and the people behind the camera make sure you know it.
Spencer is a masterpiece on all filmmaking fronts. Even pre-release, it has been excelling in every way - the promos, trailers, the photoshoots, etc.. Neon's campaigning is the stuff of a filmmaker's dream. If they had awards for film posters then no other film can touch this on that level as well.
Every department is firing on all cylinders. The costumes my god! The production design, the hair-makeup, the sound design and entire soundscape is a beast of it's own going toe to toe with Stewart's electric performance. And the score! The blend of wild jazz and baroque, organs and orchestral divinity - Jonny Greenwood has had the most fun in this film I'm sure of it.
His music is not the music of the film, it's the music of Diana's spirit, matching her rhythm at every step, regal when she is, sarcastic when she is, chaotic when she is. The music makes the film as much as everything else.
If you have the opportunity to watch Spencer in theatres, do not miss out on this film. As I said before, it was a spiritual experience for me, that left me transported for a few hours. The best film I've seen this year, by a mile! Nothing even comes close & I doubt it will either.
And thank you for reading, I know it's a long one but I've been waiting for this for almost 2 years now ever since it was announced, and I hope my passion for it has in some way connected with you as well.
Tops my list of 2021 Favourites