The Washington Post
Elusive author stays just out of focus
Filmmaker Eva Vitija examines life and loves of Patricia Highsmith
In “Loving Highsmith,” filmmaker Eva Vitija explores the life and career of author Patricia Highsmith through the lens of her love life, a form of psychobiography that fitfully brings the subject into focus, only to render her elusive in the end.
Highsmith, best known for writing “Strangers on a Train” and the “Ripley” novels, was the misfit child of a rodeo and ranching family in Texas, abandoned by her mother as a youngster before being moved to New York to join her mother and stepfather. “Loving Highsmith” suggests that Patricia’s problematic and unresolved relationship with her mother — and what the author herself would refer to as her search for her father — informed the “creepy ideas” that began to fly into her imagination when she was a teenager. She was also a closeted lesbian in 1950s Manhattan, an experience that shaped the contours of another wellknown novel, “The Price of Salt” (later republished as “Carol”).
Using clips from the movies adapted from Highsmith’s books, with Gwendoline Christie reading from her journals and manuscripts, Vitija creates an aesthetic portrait similar to the one that animates “The Last Movie Stars,” Ethan Hawke’s absorbing chronicle of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s filmic collaborations. Vitija also interviews three of Highsmith’s lovers from over the years: Marijane Meaker, Monique Buffet and Tabea Blumenschein, each of whom relays vivid memories that somehow don’t add up to a complete picture. We get some details about their relationships, but not always what sustained them or why they ended (in Meaker’s case, it was Highsmith’s drinking). What’s more, Vitija is light on details like dates and time frames, leaving the audience disoriented and unmoored as to when certain pivotal events or moves occurred. A third-act revelation regarding a married lover in London feels more like a shrug than a bombshell.
Ultimately, “Loving Highsmith” provides a valuable addition to the larger record of the author’s enigmatic life, rather than a comprehensive chronicle itself. Which might be altogether fitting for a woman who always seemed to prefer to remain just out of reach.