Reportedly inspired by a dream, 3 Women represents Robert Altman at his most experimental – the film’s eerie underwater shots (or, more technically, through-water) complement a moody, murky story in which characters try on new personae as often as they borrow each others’ swim suits.
Altman’s signature telephoto framing, omnipresent murals depicting demon-like creatures, and an atonal score add a creeping menace to uncanny California desert settings. Those settings are populated by two of the most indelible cinematic characters of the past century: Millie (Duvall, a career-best performance), a ridiculously un-self-aware social striver, and Pinky (Spacek, deliciously erratic), a wide-eyed bumpkin who worships Millie and buys her delusions of sophistication. Speaking of persona, it’s undeniable that this is a riff on Bergman’s legendary film. But with 3 Women – part bizarre cringe comedy, part haunting psychodrama – the American auteur takes that riff and composes a sublime symphony all his own. [Michelle Devereaux]