The Knack... and How to Get It ★★★★

I realize why this oddball Palme d'Or winner has become praised and maligned, and that's mostly due to its complicated approach. Seeing a film that criticizes misogyny during the UK's sexual revolution, particularly with a blithely eccentric manner, is bound to be deemed as distasteful. Whether that peppiness isn't your style, I'd rather take this wildly innovative viewpoint over a didactic kitchen-sink one. That's what makes The Knack... as challenging as it is thought-provoking.

I've encountered some exuberant "mod-styled" Brit films before (Georgy Girl, Quadrophenia), although none that have seemed so boldly reactionary. When fretful schoolteacher Colin (Michael Crawford) asks his sleek womanizer friend, Tolen (Ray Brooks) to pass on "the knack"—slang for seducing the opposite sex, he does so by dragging a larger bed into his home. The first forays where Michael's guileless self is manipulated by a ladies man.

Meanwhile, timid waif Nancy (Rita Tushingham) has just arrived from London in search for the YWCA, yet stumbles with the boys instead. When she's enchanted by Tolen's whispery advances, Colin and his outspoken mate, Tom (Donal Donnelly) chase them across London, and are unable to hide their own curious lust. (Colin does have genuine feelings for her, though.) Which only becomes more vivid when Nancy screams "rape!" allegations; like a metronome cuckoo clock, to unsuspecting people who wander across town.

A description such as that may seem off-putting. And some viewers will decry how strangely bizarre (and arguably prurient), Nancy's portrayal becomes. (Not once does Lester and co. relish in the chauvinism, though.) Yet if there's portions which displease, that would also be shortchanging the magnificent, freeform effect of The Knack's other tidbits. The astonishingly mysterious intro, a vivid montage of mannequin-esque women, uses its condemning critique to full effect.

In addition, the rest is so formally enticing, that I couldn't resist its charms. From a chorus of Britain's older onlookers who narrate the younger gen's behaviour, to all-time editing rhythms that somehow make Breathless appear tame (elliptical overheads, freeze-frames, abrupt rewinds, etc.), and John Barry's intoxicating jazz score that goes in hand with Lester's own quixotic purview. Even with the irksomeness (yet pertinence) of its subject matter, I found plenty to enjoy on numerous levels, at least as a frenzied exercise.

Each aspect that I've mentioned here may be counterintuitive to others. Which is totally acceptable; the mix of discomfiting material and buoyant jauntiness, doesn't always gel together. For the most part, I was too mesmerized by its rebuke of Swinging Sixties sexual codes, and the sheer freshness of Lester's innovative style. If that succeeds, and not at the expense of these identifiable characters, then The Knack... has endured.