Sanctuary: if you thought Margaret Qualley could dance in that Kenzo World video, you ain't seen nothin' yet!

Sanctuary opens with a buttoned up young lawyer, played by Margaret Qualley, arriving at a rich young man’s hotel room to take his deposition on some sort of legal matter. Yawn. At least the young man giving the deposition is the always fascinating Christopher Abbott. This could be interesting? I mean, I don’t see how, but it could…?

Hoo boy, I had no idea! Sanctuary is an insanely profane and seductive and titillating dance between two actors brimming with otherworldly talent. The deposition is just the set-up, of course, and any conversation about where this movie goes will spoil it for everyone else, so I’ll refrain until later in the thread.

It reminds me of a Neil Labute movie called Some Velvet Morning, which is another showcase for a couple of actors, but also a gimmick. At first, Sanctuary might seem similar to that gimmick, but whereas Labute just wanted to trick you – god, he’s such an asshole! – Sanctuary couldn’t care less about something so superficial as a trick. After about five or ten minutes, it loses interest in any narrative slight-of-hand. Instead, it wants to explore how people experience and express their sexual and psychological needs; how they develop and unfold and thrive when they can safely share their vulnerabilities and weaknesses; how love and sex are of a piece, even when it’s not immediately obvious. It’s a bold and occasionally electric movie, for how it’s written, for how it’s shot, for how Qualley and Abbott perform with each other.

And in the end, this movie is entirely Margaret Qualley’s. What an amazing performer, and what she does here is every bit as exhilarating as her unhinged dance in Spike Jonez’ Kenzo World video, but smaller, more intimate. The way she cuts her eyes, the way she holds a half smile, that tumble of wild hair, her simmering sinewy sensuality. Abbott and all his rumpled intensity never stood a chance.

Whereas I felt misled by the reveal in Some Velvet Morning, the reveal in Sanctuary was such a delightful discovery. It’s a huge spoiler, and it’s only revealed in the last scene, but it’s instrumental in talking about the movie, so here it is:

The whole thing was basically Pretty Woman: a rich and successful businessman falls in love with his expensive sex worker and marries her! The twist being that it’s at her behest, that he’s so hurt and confused and wallowing in his own trauma that she has to talk him through why it’s good for both of them. It’s basically one long set up for a marriage proposal and, in the end, they’re both good people, and arguably good for each other! And who could have anticipated that final scene considering all the grunting and fussing and fighting and not-fucking and fucking that leads up to it.

“What would you call such a person?” she asks, when everyone in the audience is thinking ‘spouse’.

“Slave,” he replies, and he’s not wrong. All that’s left is for her to meet his mother. OMG, totes adorbs!

Did you happen to watch Stars at Noon? Margaret Qualley’s body just doesn’t seem to move the same way as an ordinary person.

I don’t even know what that it, but I am officially on it. Thanks for the heads up and I’ll report back!

I’m not sure from your description if you’re talking about Qualley literally dancing in Sanctuary, which I haven’t seen (yet!), but I should clarify It’s not what I’m talking about in Stars at Noon. She’s so physically expressive just walking down a sidewalk.

We’re definitely on the same page. :)

Heh, I was thinking about making a thread for her other new movie, which is co-written and directed by Ethan Coen. She’s the lead. And it’s very much a Coen movie.

Wut? Qualley in a Coen film?! Where do I sign up?

At your local theater this September. Drive-Away Dolls also stars Geraldine Viswanathan, who’s been on my radar since, gosh, Blockers? Maybe even before then, but I don’t recall from what. She did a really cute pandemic romcom called 7 Days with an actor everyone recognizes but no one knows named Karan Soni (Deadpool’s cab driver sidekick is prob what he gets recognized for). And, yeah, Qualley and Viswanathan are in a Coen brother movie this fall. I’m stoked.

Is it weird that I was introduced to Margaret Qualley in Death Stranding? Loved her role there, too. Fantastic game with some fantastic actors.

Okay, that was intriguing. I had no idea it was Claire Denis until it was over, but that makes sense (she really did a number on me with Trouble Every Day). Although it’s especially weird that it’s adapted from a Denis Johnson novel (he must have spent time in Nicaragua or something). It felt like an airy version of Year of Living Dangerously, and I certainly enjoyed watching two beautiful people sweating in the humidity, rolling around on the sheets, and then further sweating the potential political danger. But I didn’t feel that British dude Joe Alwyn could hold a candle to Qualley, and maybe that was the point. He’s a good looking fellow with a soulful look that’s perfect for comforting little Bella Ramsay in Catherine Called Birdy; but as the Exotic Sexy Foreigner with a Secret, I wasn’t really buying him and he certainly didn’t live up to Qualley’s expressiveness and drive. And again, maybe that was the point: that he was a shit spy.

But I would have hated to miss that one, so thanks for the heads up! Stars at Noon was a great showcase for Qualley, but it was missing the interpersonal fireworks that make Sanctuary work so well. Still, your comment about watching Qualley walk down the sidewalk certainly rang true here. Her physicality is stunning.

Glad you liked it. Definitely a movie starring Qualley that also has Some Other Guy in it. I don’t think he’s supposed to be a “real” spy, more like an idealistic expat with some connections who got in over his head, and and in that sense it’s fitting he feels so lightweight.

The book it’s based on takes place (and was written) during the civil war in the 80’s, when some foreigner risking his life for the Sandinistas might have seemed more noble, but I’m not otherwise familiar with book or with Denis Johnson.

Ah, well that makes a lot more sense, and it explains the offscreen interplay between the British dude and Bennie Safdie’s CIA character, an artifact of the Cold War if ever I’ve seen one. Now I’m disappointed that it wasn’t shot as a period piece, because that would have been far more interesting setting for those characters.

In fact, now it reminds me of Under Fire with Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, and Joanna Cassidy sweating out the humidity and political upheaval in Nicaragua, from way way back in the actual 80s. I wonder if that holds up…

So I feel like these two screengrabs are the essence of Stars at Noon. First, the setting:

And now the interplay:

Qualley upstages everything, everyplace, and everyone.

Even in her digital form in Death Stranding. She’s mesmerizing even there.

I’d normally agree, but Carrie Coon was in The Leftovers.

Sanctuary was really terrific. I’ll be watching it again soon!

As proud as I am about derailing the discussion towards Stars at Noon, it did make me watch Sanctuary. I’m not sure how I interpret this story, but regarding the earlier mention of Pretty Woman, when we first see Julia Roberts there, isn’t she wearing a blonde wig kinda similar to Qualley’s?

I wonder if blonde wigs are like uniforms for sex workers. : )

It seems there’s a new video with a dancing Margaret Qualley that I thought @tomchick would appreciate:

She married Jack Antonoff recently.