30 August 2010

May to December

It's been a while since I've doubled up films like this in one post, but I've decided I'm going to go back to doing that on films about which I only have a certain amount to say. It helps that both Atom Egoyan's erotic pseudo-thriller Chloe and Catherine Corsini's arthouse drama Leaving deal with similar subject matter- married middle-age women and extra-marital affairs.

Leaving is another film I saw at the Tyneside Cinema a few weeks ago, and I've taken my time writing about it. But on the day this entry is posted, I'll be on my way there to see three more films with limited distribution, so I had to leave you something to read. The film finds one Suzanne Vidal in utter boredom with her upper class family life. Everything changes with the arrival of Ivan, a labourer who's fixing up her house- the two embark on an affair that leaves Mr. Vidal closing his wallet in a temper...

In most respects, I should probably like Leaving more than I actually did. To describe the plot in the barest terms makes it sound slightly like some Brazzers video involving a bored housewife, but it goes without saying that with Kristin Scott Thomas in the lead role, the film is considerably more thoughtful than it sounds. She gives a performance that is really, properly wonderful, and she's evenly matched by the versatile Sergi López, who most will remember as the sadistic officer from Pan's Labyrinth.

The romance between their characters is electric, but the fundamental flaw of the film, for me, was in how difficult it is to empathise with Suzanne. She's not unhappy in her marriage, nor is her husband neglectful- she's just bored. To a point, that's fine, but some of the stuff that happens as a result of her boredom is unforgivable. The last five minutes brings around a terrible twist that undermines any attachment you might have had to the opprobrious Suzanne.

Although Leaving is beautifully shot and very well acted, Catherine Corsini seems so intent on undermining the bourgeois class politics that Suzanne initially upholds that she also undermines everything human. Is it fair that Suzanne's cuckolded husband should cut her off financially just because she cheated on him? Well, yes! Yes, it is, no matter how many times she bemoans her circumstances. Despite some beautiful scenes scattered throughout, the film's ugly conscience ultimately left an unbearably sour taste in my mouth.

Leaving (Partir) is still playing in select cinemas in London, and will be released on DVD later in the year.

Elsewhere, Chloe is a prostitute hired by a genuinely unhappy wife and mother to honey-trap her husband. Catherine believes David is cheating on her after he repeatedly flirts with other women right in front of her, and crucially, deliberately misses his plane home when she's planned a birthday party for him. Chloe reports back as she dallies with David, but Catherine is ultimately drawn into something much deeper.

I'm not familiar with Atom Egoyan's work, but here he speaks softly and carries a big stick, to borrow a broad adage. The score is full of what the DVD subtitles call "soft" and "pensive" music, though this one's anything but soft. It's a psychodrama of an oddly seductive power. Not because its female stars bare all, but because of the palpable charge that the film accumulates throughout. The opening is fairly prosaic, but while it's never massively exciting, it's relentlessly interesting.

Amanda Seyfried is the closest thing to a weak link in the cast, but that's only because her co-stars are Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson. Seyfried is definitely watchable throughout, but every time those two shared the screen, it was fantastic. Their marriage, now deflated of romance, is utterly believable- Neeson's indignation is ambiguous enough that it actually feeds the uncertainty of the plot, and Moore beautifully portrays her character's frustration at how everyone loves a man as he reaches his autumn years while a woman is seen to be past her best.

Chloe makes for a sensual and beguiling drama, even if it goes just a little bit Fatal Attraction in the last act. That's a development I could have done without, but it has a lot to say about the gulf between genders in middle age and while many will appreciate Amanda Seyfried being naked, that's not there to titillate. It manages to be portentous without being pretentious- a mature and powerful film that leaves the viewer with a lot to muse upon afterwards.

Chloe is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray
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If you've seen Leaving or Chloe, why not leave a comment on the films and/or my review? Be sure to let me know if you're perturbed by how much I'm talking about gender lately- my current trip to the Tyneside involves Black Dynamite, so discussion may be lighter from here onwards.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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