Monday 31 October 2016

The Current Cinema - Verhoeven's ELLE provokes a lively Facebook conversation

Verhoeven directs Huppert
Editors Note:  Eddie Cockrell's review    of Paul Verhoevens latest film Elle, his first film in a decade and his first made in France,  brought to attention that the film has been the subject of much critical controversy. A Facebook post linking up to Eddies note on the Film Alert blog caused a most interesting conversation to take place. Ive edited the contributions and reposted it for greater enjoyment. 

Please note SPOILER ALERT. Peter Hourigan gives away lots of plot points.

Peter Hourigan I saw ELLE today - and it's still hammering at me. I'm not sure that this captures all what I saw. In fact, I'm not sure what I saw - and this is what's so intriguing. To start - was it a rape? That's a big question - but perhaps it was part of an ongoing SM relationship between Huppert and her neighbour. I think there's more than enough evidence for this to be a possibility. And then, there is also the possibility that much of what we see is part of Huppert's fantasy - though I think this approach to the film is more problematic. And is the film exploiting rape for entertainment? Or saying women have fantasies of violent rape? Or is it an examination of a damaged life - a life damaged as a child? All these possibilities are aspects that make this a film worthy of lots of focus and discussion. What I'll ultimately decide about it, I don't know - but how good to have a film that really challenges a smug complacency to it like this does

Eddie Cockrell You're exactly right, Peter, this is a deep and complex film. My review, like many others, skates over the basics and I even mention that the viewer should be allowed to peel back the layers for themselves. "Still hammering at me" says it all.

David Hare Saw this in Paris in June. I must say it did absolutely nothing for me, and I was frankly surprised to see people responding to la Huppert's part and performance as something original, rather than a retread of so many other Huppert suffering roles. As for Verhoeven I prefer the old middlebrow glossy trash Verhoeven of Showgirls and Spetters for all their gaudy bisexual semi soft core porn. This is a ponderous Verhoeven merely mimicking Haneke (without the wit.) Sorry guys.

Eddie Cockrell That's why they make different coloured jelly beans, as we used to say in the Reagan years (without the extraneous "u," of course).

Peter Hourigan David, a few thoughts (and spoilers coming. People who haven’t seen the film should NOT proceed.) This is a film where so much is unexpected – not so much events, but in people’s reactions. It starts with that violent rape, after which Michele goes about cleaning up the apartment almost detached. What’s wrong with her, we think. Later she has a Christmas party at which she starts playing with Patrick’s crotch under the table. Doesn’t she think he may react in a way that will shame her? Or does she know – because of their secret relationship with its violent love-making – that he’ll (um) keep it all under the table? At the end, as Patrick’s wife (now widow) is leaving the neighbourhood she doesn’t seem as grief-stricken as we’d expect, and actually thanks Michele for giving Patrick what she couldn’t – real puritanical church mouse that she is. Did she know about a violent, ongoing relationship between Patrick and Michele? So, Michele has certainly a complex psychological present. And we know she has a fraught psychological history – from at least the age of ten when she was close to her father when he was arrested for a violent mass murder (not serial killer as sometimes said). He’s still in her life even though he’s been in prison ever since. And I’ve said nothing about her relationship with her mother! What happened to her psyche as a result of being in this family?

She’s a woman with strong sexual instincts, and a very public way of satisfying and controlling them. How much is she a calculating woman in her relationships – think of when and how she tells her best friend she’s been having an affair with her friend’s husband? She knows their friendship will survive. And what questions there are about how she cranks up the pornographic level in the video games she’s producing. Huppert’s performance with its insights into the public face and the private interior, the present behaviour and the small girl’s history is nothing more than miraculous.
There are no clear answers, just lots of possibilities. Think of the final ‘rape’ and the resulting death. Remember that she arranged so that got a lift home with Patrick – and she knew her son was in the house. So, perhaps she knew that the outcome would be as it was - the final making of Vincent from a milksop into a man! And that mission would seem to have been accomplished. So, do we have a victim of the worst possible crime against a person? Or a calculated, calculating, clever, cold-hearted, emotionally dead but still very sexually alive woman? Ultimately, only the viewer can decide how they read all this.

Claire Denis, Les Salauds
David Hare Peter your defence is eloquent and I respect it but I would still rather take Claire Denis' immaculately shaped and felt Les Salauds (France, 2013) for instance any time over Verhoeven's convolutions - which is how I see them in what is purporting to be sexually transgressive material. I think I am just not convinced by Verhoeven's latter day conversion to "serious" intentions here, and I can never see him as other than a moderately entertaining sexploitation artists (no sin there) whose ideal producer should always be the king of expensive trash, Joe Esterhasz,

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison tracks down Nicholas Winding Refn's NEON DEMON

Neon Demon, Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, France/UK/USA, 2016. Screened in competition at Cannes. 117 minutes

When a film that is getting mainstream showing round the planet turns up as a Dendy Newtown exclusive, you've got to wonder what's happening.

Well in the case of Nicolas Winding Refn's THE NEON DEMON, I've got to reluctantly suggest what's happening is the exercise of good taste. I like Refn's DRIVE and pretty much nothing else he did.

The connection between fashion photography and ultraviolence is not new to movies - think THE EYES OF LAURA MARS or giallo thrillers.

This one starts out looking like an up market extension of the cycle, kicking off with
young (plausibly sixteen -
 Christina (Mad Men) Hendricks' one scene is about a bogus parental consent form) Elle Fanning laid out on a coach, throat cut. Turns out it’s a photo shoot for Karl Glusman whom she contacted through the Internet. Hendricks warns her about these and the session doesn’t run to a shower with her needing Make-Up girl Jena Malone’s wet ones to get the goo off.

The photoshoot opening, Elle Fanning
The film’s strongest element is it’s brooding menace which turns up at Keanu Reeves (!) seedy motel, with it’s clanging iron office door and red “Motel” sign.  Or there is in the party to which Malone invites her, or the shaven headed photographer eying Elle before they get the “show” of a girl appearing to be suspended in mid air.

Of course our heroine has “the deer startled by the headlights” look, like the character in CAFE SOCIETY. She is an immediate success after her shoot - daubed with gold paint and “Take off your clothes” - though the film’s only nudity comes later and is totally unerotic.

Established models Bella Heathcote & Abbey Lee (Hollywood decadence has an Australian accent now), go on about being finished at twenty one, the work they have had done (“You say that as if it were a bad thing!”) and seethe with jealousy.

After semi abstract sessions with the divided triangle where Elle licks her mirror
reflection, plot such as it is has Elle breaking up with young Glusman, though he pays off the damages Reeves demands for the cougar rampage in her room and, now glamorous, preferring the company of her peer group, where the photographer humiliates one girl by a comparison with her manufactured look 

When someone tries to break into her motel room, moving on to the 13 year old next door, Elle flees to Malone at the house sit where the make up girl proves to be a lesbian necrophile and our heroine finds herself menaced at dawn near the empty pool.

The film moves beyond yuck into a c’mon now ending, gross and naive, not redeemed by its stylish elements.

Sunday 30 October 2016

The Current Cinema - Eddie Cockrell enthuses over Paul Verhoeven's return to film-making ELLE

Paul Verhoeven’s new film ELLE, his first in a decade and the French language and location debut of the Dutch-born director, tells of hard-charging video game production company co-owner Michele  (Isabelle Huppert, at the top of her game), and her unusual—to say the least—response to the brutal home invasion and sexual assault that opens the action.

This sinewy, provocative thriller has been compared to the work of Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, and those comparisons are well-earned. Yet there’s also a certain disconnect to it, as life-altering events amongst Michele and her friends and family pass with little or no emotional toll evident to the characters. This creates an odd, occasionally distracting air of surrealism that can feel at odds with the story’s chilling plausibility.

Even before the rape, Michele led a complicated life. Not one for niceties, she is downright dismissive of her mother Irene (Judith Magre) yet tolerant of her ex-husband (Charles Berling). Her headstrong son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) causes her no end of exasperation, but she seems unusually close to her business partner Anna (Ann Consigny) and her husband Robert (Christian Berkel). And that’s before she cosies up to her religious neighbours Rebecca (Virginie Efira) and Patrick (Laurent Lafitte).

Isabelle Huppert in Paul Verhoeven's Elle
There’s more to Michele’s circle than meets the eye—much more, but one of the pleasures, if that’s the word, of ELLE is discovering the plot’s twists and turns for oneself. No stranger to the jarring effects of violence on his characters in numerous genres (perhaps most emblematic in his 1990 science fiction action movie TOTAL RECALL), Verhoeven continues that predilection here but tempers it with a detached emotional viciousness that is somehow more visceral, and more soul-searing for it.

Well into the process of adapting Philippe Dijian’s novel “Oh…,” the film was meant to be shot in the United States (this explains why the screenwriter, David Birke, is American). Verhoeven readily admits to cold feet at the prospect of finding an American actress ready or willing to take on the formidable role of Michele. The shift to a French metropolis makes sense for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the clichéd view of that culture’s romantic entanglements, of which there are many.

Despite any misgivings, in the end it’s good to have Paul Verhoeven back and displaying the kind of confidence that propelled his career. Ambitious films are often flawed, but the best of those can propel themselves past such shortcomings. ELLE, which will represent France in the upcoming Foreign Film race at the Academy Awards, narrowly risks overstaying its 131-minute running time but bulls through on the strength of Verhoeven’s patented swagger and Huppert’s emotional intelligence.