3 Women
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3 Women contains some of director Robert Altman's best filmmaking, particularly in the interplay of its lead characters, Pinky Rose and Millie Lammoreaux (with both Sissy Spacek and Shelly Duvall giving superb performances); however, the movie also contains infuriating developments (particularly in its final half hour) that negate the fascinating characters in favor of vague mysticism.

First, the good—because the movie contains some astonishing characters and performances. Sissy Spacek plays a mousy, childish woman who comes to work at a rehabilitation center for the elderly. She remains something of an enigma throughout the movie. We know little of her background and how she comes to arrive in Arizona. Rather than becoming frustrating because we never really understand her, Sissy Spacek's fascinating portrayal of this naifish woman becomes an entrancing study in the malleability of personality. Pinky (Spacek) looks to Millie for advice in all manners—from the workplace, where Millie introduces Pinky to the work routine, to their home lives, where Pinky moves in with Millie and begins reading her diary.

Millie (Duvall) isn't particularly ingratiating. Her co-workers keep their distance and hardly listen as Millie prattles on about the most inane everyday matters. The people who live in the same apartment complex as Millie keep their distance. John feigns a cough as an excuse for why he can't go on a date with her. Her hangout is a hole-in-the-wall bar (named Dodge City) in the middle of the desert. Besides Millie and Pinky, we never see anyone except the owners inside the bar. When we first meet Millie—and she goes on in an overbearingly self-satisfied manner about her home decorations or her dinner parties (she serves pigs-in-a-blanket!)—we cringe and consider ourselves lucky that we don't have to put up with her. But Pinky is attracted to Millie's strong personality and begins to emulate her. These rather insignificant characters might be difficult to build a film around; however, director Altman has a trick in store, a plot twist—a suicide attempt by Pinky—that makes us see Millie in a different light. Afterwards, we begin to feel sorry for her and see her strengths and compassion as she cares for Pinky. In the ensuing scenes, the movie veers off in unexpected directions.

By focusing on the mundane world of Pinky and Millie and then turning that world upside down, Altman provides some of his most quiet and insightful work. But now for the bad

Throughout the first 3/4ths of the movie, Altman's camera keeps returning to the mythical paintings that the third woman (Janice Rule) paints on swimming pool walls and floors. The music hits ominous tones and drones on as if a horror movie is about to unleash. This is to remind us to not get too comfortable—that mystical undercurrents are swirling near the main characters and waiting impatiently to grab control. The problem is Pinky and Millie are so compelling that when mysticism grabs control of the movie, it does so by discarding the fascinating characters. Instead of bringing their story to a conclusion, Altman changes the game entirely by making vague connections with a mystical power.

The Criterion Collection's DVD release of 3 Women comes with a modest collection of extras, including an extensive gallery of stills and an audio commentary track by Robert Altman. Usually, the Criterion Collection only bumps up their suggested retail price to $39.95 for extras-laden DVDs. In comparison to those discs, which might contain documentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, etc., the 3 Women extras are a bit skimpy for the price.

3 Women is now available on DVD from the Criterion Collection in a new high-definition digital transfer with restored image and sound. The DVD includes a gallery of rare production and publicity stills. In addition, Robert Altman provides audio commentary on an alternate audio track. Suggested retail price: $39.95. For more information, check out the Criterion Collection Web site.