Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966)
Mike Nichols' first film happened to be very popular at the time it came out. The plot of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is about a couple in their 40s (Elizabeth talyor & Richard Burton) receving a younger couple at their home in the night. The older couple is always arguying and bitter against each other. They never had a child, the spouse is always critisizing the career of her husband (a professor who wants to become the head of the History department). He himself is very bitter and negative about life in general and he thinks he can give a lesson to the younger couple about relationships since his marriage is falling apart. The more the story goes ahead the meaner they go to each other and we the viewers are like the young couple that follows them into their madness. We could leave but we want to know want happens to them, we get involved in their hysterical relationship.
The popularity of the film maybe explained in the first place, by the presence of the couple Taylor-Burton that made so many times the top of the tabloids of the time. They were married two times together and their relationship was very tormented so has their characters in this film. Their performances are amazing and especially Taylor with her manic/depressive interpretation of Martha.
On the directing side the use of black and white tend to detach the viewer from the gravity and the weight of the situations and the languages used in the film. The camera is well used from panoramic takes to close-ups to destabilize the spectator and to keep him aware of the many dialogues that carry the action. One of the best scene in the film is when Burton points a hunting gun on the head of taylor and we feel the tension and we know he's going to shoot so does George (the husband of the younger couple).
Who's Afraid of Viginia Woolf? is a good film but all its action and tension is related to the dialogues and the characters. It's mostly a film of actor performances. Indeed, it's great performances but I think it's not enough to categorize it as a great film.
A Film Retrospective by Michaël Parent