Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chloe, (A Lady) in the Night

Cold. Julianne Moore is cold. Not just in the physical sense - I mean, it is pretty chilly in Toronto, but she's also cold in the more figurative sense. She's cold like the smooth white surfaces of her doctor's office, like the spotless glass walls of her house, like the frosty, uncommunicative marriage she's in. A-ha! The crux of the matter. Catherine doesn't trust her husband David (Liam Neeson), what with him being the tall, handsome, smooth-talking lecturer he is, so she hires a glamourous prostitute she's noticed to test his fidelity for good. But Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) gives Catherine more than she'd planned to pay for.

A vague plot synopsis, like the one found in the film festival's literature, makes Chloe's icy erotica seem coyly alluring. A full plot synopsis might reveal the more tawdry aspects of the film, but what delight there is within Atom Egoyan's latest may well remain within the unfolding, so I'll keep as mum as I can manage. But something doesn't feel right from the start. You can film a cold place but it takes something more to make the film cold itself - and Chloe is too heavily photographed, too close to really appropriate that at all. There's no law that says a film set in Canadian winter has to send chills down the back of your spine, but what Chloe's atmosphere is instead is just a bit vulgar and melodramatic. The music is all swelling piano dramatics, the generic atmosphere a stilted, canned laughter type of place... it's a good thing we've got some nudity to spice things up, really.

No, but Moore and Seyfried aren't bad, exactly - a shame in a way, since this has the elements to make it a fantastically bad picture, but it settles for being merely 'not very good' - and the way events play out between them is certainly the most intriguing and interesting aspect of the film. Moore has never been afraid of exploring aspects of a woman's sexuality - despite continually swearing she'll never do it again, she insisted at the press conference - and here she nicely plays the arc of a woman fighting growing older and rediscovering the sensuality that had been buried beneath routine and disconnection. Seyfried is the bigger revelation, though, with a performance that, before the film takes a strong turn for the brainless, is intriguingly coy about who this woman is and what she wants, and more than anything proves that this is a young woman with incredible charisma. The film is, in as much as its psychological aspects end up making any sense at all, about figurative visibility - Catherine feels like she's faded with age, her husband 'doesn't see her'. More interesting is Chloe - does her profession give people licence to view her as a sexual object, or a purchase?

It's a great shame that Chloe, while certainly no masterpiece before it slides into tawdry thriller territory (an aspect not present in the French film, Nathalie..., on which the film is based, and apparently something we can blame producer Ivan Reitman for), throws these promises of psychological insight down the drain. Perhaps it was inevitable - it is, potentially, Chloe's 'performance' that keeps us intrigued, wandering as she does between frankly sexual and coyly childlike, and the stripping back of all this leads to some ludicrous overdrama. Atom Egoyan can wax for as long as he wants about how this is an adult, complex psychological drama about 'human interaction' and 'mature relationships', but the truth will out - it's an erotic thriller with remnants of French intrigue that can't help overloading on inexplicable obsessive madness, blowing all subtle humanity to the wind. Or out the window. C-

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Alas, Sweet Hair

I've not mentioned it here on the blog, since I'm figuring that any readers here that aren't covered by my Twitter and Facebook friend roll are likely already readers of The Film Experience, but just in case you're not, I'm covering the London Film Festival for that most wonderful of blogs for the next couple of weeks, and you can already catch a few mini-review round-ups over there. Nathaniel is kindly allowing me to post any full-length reviews on this here blog, though, which might be just as well with the drought that's preceded them. There's also, you might notice, a continually updated list of screenings at the top of that there sidebar, so you're not missing a thing.

First off, here are my extended thoughts on the ever-cited (and ever-loved) Glenn's favourite Samson and Delilah.

Samson and Delilah has just one connection to the biblical parable with which it shares it's name - the chopping off of hair. But in Warwick Thornton's stunning film, the action is not a vengeful one, but one of grief. At different points in the film, both of the titular characters hack at their long locks with a serrated knife as a mark of a death, an act filmed each time with a painfully close intensity. Frequently the film reaches emotional spikes like these, but it's the strength of the film throughout that makes them so powerful.

Samson (Rowan MacNamara) and Delilah (Marisa Gibson) live in a half-heartedly Westernized, run-down Aboriginal town, with a phone that rings but is never answered. She cares for her grandmother (Mitjili Gibson), who makes her living painting intricate dot paintings, and Nana is all too amused by the antagonistic relationship burgeoning between her grandchild and the lonely Samson, who can't get his brother to move beyond the same repetitive tune he plays all day outside their house, and so spends his time playing in a wheelchair and sniff petrol. The early sequences of the drama are tinged with humour, but also a highly authentic feel of the place, not overemphasizing the barren existance with constant shots of it, but letting sound, image and character draw out a keenly felt depiction. Gibson and MacNamara somehow forge an entirely plausible, and certainly fascinating duo as they silently squabble, observe, intrigue each other. Thornton only occasional uses cinematic tricks, like aural identification (as Samson puts his hands over his ears) or distorted edits (as his petrol addiction worsens), to emphasize our identification with these characters, so it's to the actors immense credit that they not only carry the film but involve you so deeply in the tragic unfolding, while still being detached, volatile and unpredictable.

It's to Thornton's credit, meanwhile, that the film manages to be about so much, and be so insightful about these things, while retaining a disengaged air of mystery and apathy that bespeaks the character's attitudes. Moments like Delilah being beaten by those we assume are her family (and who are otherwise absent from her and her grandmother's life) leave us wondering whether this is some vestige of Aboriginal custom, or merely a similar angry violence that Samson is prey to. The film doesn't explain the Aboriginal place in modern day Australia, merely depicts it - Delilah sees her grandmother's dot paintings selling for high prices in a city art gallery, but they won't give her's a second glance. Is it about love? What exactly does Samson want from Delilah? Their relationship grows into some form of love, but does so without seemingly betraying those aspects of their characters that have defined them to us. If Samson and Delilah is a parable, it disguises it well. This is a powerful journey, a detached yet involving story about a pair you might not understand if you dissect their depiction, but gradually do on some basic human level. A-