Friday 28 September 2018

On DVD - TOP OF THE LAKE: CHINA GIRL (Jane Campion, Gerard Lee, Ariel Kleiman)

It’s the moment, or the whole episode. In the new Twin Peaks it’s Episode 8 which starts with an atomic explosion in 1945, in black and white, and goes from there. Its the moment, if indeed there is one, that shakes you out of complacency, comfort, the feeling you are on top of all this.

In Top of the Lake: China Girl the second series of the Jane Campion/Gerard Lee police procedural, it's Episode 4.

In that episode the villain of the piece is the German brothel landlord Alexander, nicknamed by the Thai girls who work there "Puss" (David Dencik). He has a relationship with his 17 year old girlfriend/fiancée Mary, nicknamed Baby (Alice Englert) which is going badly. Puss’s display of the full panoply of male egotism, self-pity, arrogance and social incompetence, brings him front and centre. He is the epitome of sleaze – badly dressed, unwashed, unshaven, needing a haircut or at least a hairwash. Its all on display in successive sequences at the brothel, at a beach picnic and, bizarrely, at an end of year school dance for fathers and daughters. I have to say I've never heard of a school dance for fathers and daughters but in the world of Jane Campion who knows where this has been dredged from. 

At this last mentioned, “Puss” turns up at the dance and proceeds to make a drunken or drug-soaked spectacle of himself. More, throughout the episode Mary/Baby, still attending the exclusive private girls' school, has been taking steps to work in the brothel, a place which otherwise seems to contain only Asian prostitutes all of them basically enslaved to the owner. This occurs because she says she loves Puss and seemingly wants to join him in a downward spiral of self-humiliation and total indignity.

David Dencik ("Puss"), Top of the Lake - China Girl
By the end (Spoiler Alert), two episodes further on, Puss has left the country in the company of a half dozen Thai prostitutes all of whom are pregnant with surrogate children. Puss leaves behind a video in which he berates the would-be parents and the world at large for their selfishness and exploitation. 

The men in this series are one or more of the following – weak, corrupt, incompetent, misogynistic, exploitative, violent or, as in Puss’s case, all-round figures of loathing and disgust. One of the key figures is a member of a group of young men who meet in a cafe to collectively assess, and include on a database, the various qualities of the Sydney prostitutes whose services they have used. 

I was warned this series was gruelling. Right. Unusually I couldn’t watch more than an episode at a time but curiosity as to just what went on in the very first sequence, when a suitcase containing a dead body, is dumped in the sea makes you want to follow it through. 

As I said, gruelling.

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