DIRECTOR: Sidney Lumet | WRITER: James Salter | CAST: Omar Sharif, Anouk Aimée, Didi Perego, Fausto Tozzi, Lotte Lenya, Angelo Infanti | USA
The Appointment was Sidney Lumet’s unlikely attempt to make a European-style art house film, and even though the film was not a commercial success – it wasn’t well-received at the 1969 Cannes festival and MGM apparently never released it in the United States – it isn’t as bad as you might expect. In fact, I think it’s got a lot to recommend it even though it’s ultimately an artistic failure. Certainly the movie is gorgeous looking: the cinematographer was Carlo Di Palma who shot Antonioni’s Red Desert and Blow-Up (and later a dozen or so of Woody Allen’s movies), and the art director and costume designer was Piero Gherardi, who worked in the same capacity on Fellini’s 8½ and Juliet of the Spirits; and Rome is Rome, while Omar Sharif and Anouk Aimée make for a strikingly attractive couple…but there’s something missing at the center of The Appointment and the movie just doesn’t come together somehow.
Sharif plays Federico Fendi, a tightly self-controlled lawyer and life-long bachelor, who becomes obsessed with a woman he notices on the street, Carla (Aimée), who turns out to be an haute couture model and coincidentally the fiancée of a colleague of his. When their engagement breaks up, Fendi courts and eventually marries Carla, but not before his colleague hints that she may actually be the highest paid prostitute in Rome. (Think of Othello, perhaps.) Aimée’s character, on the other hand, is a fragile and deeply depressed woman who is periodically crippled by nebulous fear, but whether she is or was a prostitute is deliberately never made clear. The movie follows the progression of their relationship as Fendi becomes more and more possessive and controlling even as he seeks out the truth about Carla’s past and she, in turn, becomes more and more fragile. Omar Sharif gives an exceptionally good performance as the nervous and ill at ease, obsessive husband. I don’t think Anouk Aimée’s character is as sharply drawn, but she does convey Carla’s fragility and despair quite well. The supporting actors are generally good, although Lotte Lenya’s turn as an unrepetant Fascist and antiques dealer/procuress — she may or may not have been Carla’s madam — is really quite fine. The cinematography is gorgeous and at times bravura, the sets and costumes are first rate and the movie even includes a old-style fashion show staged at a couturier’s design house, the John Barry score is lushly romantic and operatic (and I think really terrific), and yet…I don’t know. The Appointment is yet another movie I would like to see again but this time full-frame in a theater rather than in the mutilated version shown on TCM, in which the left and right sides of the frame were hacked off leading to such oddities as Lotte Lenya’s hands alone being visible on the far right of the screen for a good amount of time during her first scene.