Liz and Marilyn: Black and White in Colour: “Secret Ceremony” (1968) ★★★★


Have you ever had a chance to watch a movie when after sometime you aren’t able to tell the difference between a sane and an insane person? Who’s pretending or who is the real one? Or what’s really happening in the entire film is what you would call it as a normal thing? Probably you can name one or few films like the one I described above, but I am certain, it’s rare seeing such weird, meantime, imaginative plot that certainly could be considered as one of the braves of Hollywood’s 1968. But the most notable part of the film is the last ten minutes where Elizabeth Taylor and still young and very talented Mia Farrow deliver their the maddest, totally controlled performance in this underrated, and undeservedly forgotten psycho-drama, Secret Ceremony, directed by Joseph Losey.

Leonora is a penniless woman who has nothing except her little bag she carries. One day in the bus a young woman, Cenci, approaches her claiming that she is her long-lost mother and takes her to large house where she lives alone. At the beginning, Leonora enjoys having a roof over her head, and a company of a young girl who is way too supportive. But soon the woman finds herself enmeshed in a web of deception, and perhaps madness she willingly puts herself in. What will happen next is something no one can prevent, as the game for real identity and how to escape the trap begins in this psychological thriller with only one possible ending. The ending that you must find out, if you’re ready to throw yourself into the gothic horror fight between two emotionally unstable women….

Secret Ceremony does not take long to develop the plot from the beginning. The only question you might ask yourself, how far two people will take you in order to show their madness. Leonora is a calm woman with a troubled past we are yet to find out. However, Cenci is like an open book, who sees in Leonora her late mother. There is no evidence that Cenci’s mother looked like Leonora, but that does not stop the unpredictable and hard-to-control Cenci to manipulate the entire situation the way she wants. The scene where she imagines making love with someone who does not exist is pretty intense and deserves an applause, while Elizabeth Taylor’s Leonora watching her trying to understand what really happens with the girl in whose house she lives now.

As the film progresses, it is hard to follow Cenci’s reaction as she no longer is capable of holding herself. The appearance of her abusive stepfather, Albert (Robert Mitchum) adds more fuel to the fire that no one from that moment on appears as a sane person. Leonora, who seemed to be reliable in terms of psychological state of mind also joins this chaos and feels herself at home. Despite having a strong and meantime disturbing plot, there are two scenes I must say were amongst the best in this film where both Cenci and Leonora no longer need to pretend who they are or not; the first scene is when Leonora accepts Cenci’s kind offer to do a back massage, but gets understandably mad when Cenci’s touch becomes more gentle that makes her feel comfortable to move from massage to kissing Leonora’s back. The second scene can be considered as an epic one, where Mia Farrow and Elizabeth Taylor release all anger, hate and everything else that their characters felt at that moment. And when you see such a powerful, stunning, and meantime, frightening performance of both leading actresses, you realize, this movie is no longer about Cenci and Leonora and how could it be, when you have two incredible strong actors in one movie?

Schedule: Saturday, December 5, 3:30 PM at TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX

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