Monthly Archives: March 2017

  • Elle Paul Verhoeven (Fr 2016)

    Elle Paul
    Verhoeven (Fr 2016) Isabelle Huppert

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 14 Mar 2017; Ticket: £9.75

    Many fingers in the pudding

    Verhoeven’s ‘Elle’ like many of today’s movies, opens with the Money. The Money people, the Investor’s names, fade in and out through the film’s opening credits. Of course every image tells a story and after viewing the ‘Elle’ credits, if you follow the Money, you get the finance story.

    It goes something like this. Once upon a time finance for feature films came from one or a small number of main sources who Ok’d the project’s script, talent and production team including the director. Personal relations were often important in getting projects off the ground and many projects although subject to the signing off of the final cut by the Money, would more or less be left to trust, with the director given some leeway in bringing his interpretation of the script to realisation.

    My thinking is that this ‘old’ production format is now often superseded. Now there are often a large number of financial players investing in the production of a feature film. The major players, TV channels and theatrical distribution companies provide the core finance and the rationale for other investors to come in and spread the risk endemic in the business. But the risk has appear of low order to bring the back end finance on board. So the normal requisites of proven director production team and talent are of course put in place. But added to this, a new degree of attention is paid to the script and scenario of feature movies. To attract a wider range of investors a format of script is demanded which is qualitively different from traditional script designs. The script has to have a ‘wow’ factor, a spectacle format as its definitive statement. Scripting craft no longer cuts the mustard. The script has to promise: ‘Money’. It has to have the meachanics of money.

    Once talent and director were in place, old Hollywood built its scripts on the concept of ‘the through story’ more or less linked to the idea of character/life development. The new movie scripting does not do character development; and the through story concept is replaced by ‘events’ which dominate and define the scenario. Modern scripts, as exemplified by’Elle’ resemble adverts. Adverts don’t do character development, (obviously their short duration doesn’t quite allow this) but the point of the ads is completion. In the ads the characters are completed by the product they use. The characters are usually enigmatic constructs, emblems of desired attributes who in the script are associated with a consumer product. The attractive woman in the shower is completed by the washing gel that sets off her hair or her body. There is one event, or perhaps sequence of events (as in automobile ads), that links product and character completion.

    Like adverts contemporary scripts don’t have character development. The characters are effectively completed by the product, which is a developed scenario that comprises a series of events. What these ‘events’ comprise doesn’t matter as long as they are spectacular, a huge variety of events can be bolted on to the core of the film. The efficacy of stylistic juxtaposition will seamlessly assemble all the parts togather.

    Verhoeven’s Elle is constructed out of a series of events, played out so as to escalate through the duration of the script. The characters are loose constructs comprising of types that are representative of the demographic target audience. Michelle Blanc is a type of successful business woman with a type of dark past. Construed as an enigma who undergoes a series of either real or imagined ordeals, she has no more intelligibility than the woman in the shower gel advert. But instead of a ‘shower event’ we have a series of ‘violent rape events’ which complete her being in the world. The darkness of her past, the darkness of her video game business give a phantom depth to the assaults on her body. The script remains coy about her degree of complicity, preferring to wrap up Michelle in the mystery of her sexual completion. This gives the film producers and the PR department of the distributors some wriggle room in which they can disingenuously plead the violent rape scenes may be construed as real or imagined; but that if imagined explained by Michelle’s traumatised past.

    Michelle’s traumatised past like most of the events in the film feels like a bolt-on section that exists to fill out the film with spectacle. The core of the film is the spectacle of Michelle, legs akimbo, (Huppert performing like a inflatable sex doll) being slapped about by a ludicrous ‘Batman-like’ intruder into her house. As this is a repetitive spectacle the script/scenario needs bolt on events; a bad psychopathic daddy, a fallatio scene, a lesbian scene, a sexually violent video game, a mother death bed scene, car crash scene (without airbag!) etc. This pans out to a two hour film, some of it slightly tongue in cheek, but a film nevertheless. None of the bolt on’s are essential to ‘Elle’, any could have been left out without effecting the film in any respect except its length. And half way through it is clear the movie is painfully too long as there is almost nothing in Elle except padding.

    The film reviewers seem to like ‘Elle’. Film reviewers are of course part of the assemblage of the cinema industry, and their role in the film machine is to put bums of seats, because this is an industry, and no bums no seats no jobs. Occasionally for form’s sake they pan a movie but for the most part they seems content to play along with the distributors PR departments take on their products. The Independent reviewer judged that ‘Elle” was “…unpredictable and confounded audience expectations.” In fact I have rarely seem a more predictably dire set of events. The fact that “Elle’ has as its main character a strong successful woman played by Huppert who is an established representative of intelligent role playing, seems to have banjaxed reviewers into buying the PR hype and being cowed by obtuse political correctness into giving it good review. All those stars.

    There is a better argument for seeing “Elle’ as demeaning and degrading pumped up piece of film making. There are moments, mainly in the choreographed group sequences but also in the trysts between Michelle and the masked man where Verhoeven gives a nod to Bunuel, hints that his scenario might take on the dark surreal caste of a Bunuel movie. But Bunuel’s films are underscored by a moral vision. Moral doesn’t make money, and Verhoeven, after a couple of nods gets on with the simple mechanics of bolt-on film making. Elle is the product of opportunistic hypocrisy that presents sexual violence as spectacle, wrapping up fake female empowerment as a saleable product that can make the return on Money. And speaking of money, Isabelle Huppert could make a bundle selling anti-wrinkle cream. Adrin Neatrour

  • The Salesman Asghar Fahadi (Iran 2016)

    The Salesman Asghar
    Fahadi (Iran 2016) Shahab Hosseini,
    Taraneh Alidoosti

    viewed Angelika Film Center NYC, 13 Feb 2017; ticket: .00
    What’s for sale?

    After filming ‘The Past’ in France in 2013, Fahadi returns to Iran in 2016, to make ‘The Salesman’. Fahadi’s concern as film maker to judge from the three films of his that I have seen is locked onto human relations their functioning and the way in which they break down, within the social and cultural context.

    ‘The Past’ was ineffective as an expression of the human comedy, perhaps because Fahadi, marooned in France outside his native milieu, produced a movie in which melodrama and plot driven concerns dominated the scenario, whereas ‘A Separation’, his previous film, was about process. Those processes, emotional legal social that mediated at the intersections between the personal and the public domains. In ‘A Separation’ plot resolution was subordinate to situation development.

    In ‘The Salesman’ returning to a home Iranian setting, Fahadi again focuses on relations not plot. Fahadi incorporates into his focus on the marriage situation of Emad and Rana, the dynamics of the amorphous shifting cultural and social forces that shape and form their relationship. Dynamics that ultimately suggest meanings for us the audience, but meanings that are implicit in the behaviour and demeanour of the characters; rather than explicitly stated melodramatic acting out.

    Fahadi bookends and intercuts ‘The Salesman’ with sections from Arthur Miller’s play, ‘The Death of a Salesman’. Emad and Rana play the lead roles of Willie and Linda Loman in this small theatre group production. The manner in which Fahadi uses his chosen excerpts from this particular play seems problematic at the level of meanings in the dialogue, but is strongly suggestive in a more structural formal sense.

    Fahadi opens “The Salesman’ with shots of the ‘Death of a Saleman’s’ stage setting; periodically throughout the film he cuts to short clips of the play both in rehearsal and performance. But there is never enough information from the text in these excerpts for an audience to have any notion of what the play is about. You have only the play’s title as a hook telling you that the play somehow concerns ‘death’. For the rest Fahadi simply presents us with observable formal processes of this American drama: Emad and Rana are in a play where they pretend to be/act out the roles of main characters; they dress up in clothes that are disconnected from their way of life; they put on make up to disguise and present themselves as other, in Rana’s case, as Linda, appreciably older; they take on roles and speak lines of dialogue that are exterior to their culture. Yet in spite of this otherness, they somehow remain true to themselves. In contrast as the script develops the particular situation that presses upon their marriage, they become less true to themselves. They become trapped in and by events, estranged from each other, incapable of communication and honesty. This strange concept of Western drama exploiting the possibility of individuated personal malleability (role playing) to illuminate otherness, alien to mainstream traditional Iran, reflects a parody of truth of which the main players, constrained by inhibition, are incapable. And it is Rana herself, not playing Linda, who ages and wilts before our eyes, old and wise before her time, crushed by forces outside her control. The assault on Rana in her own home, shapes the development of ‘The Salesman’. It is the event in the movie that triggers the impulse that drives Fahadi’s script to range over elements of the social and cultural matrix that have fateful implication for both individuals and Iranian society. At the heart of the film lie the relations between the sexes. The weight of law attitude and tradition render women, in certain situations, almost powerless to oppose the male will to control. In particular in relation to those types of circumstances that concern any type of female sexuality exposed to the public gaze or knowledge. At the point of this exposure there is no personal there is only public and the woman in her interiority and her exteriority is identified only in terms of the male imperative. Rana’s mistake has consequences for her, both in the social domain, where she has to endure the mute censor of her neighbours, but most crushingly in her personal relationship with her husband.

    It is not absolutely clear from the scenario, if Emad accepts unconditionally his wife’s account of the event. What is clear is that Emad becomes less concerned about Rana’s feelings than his own. The critical point for Emad is the cultural meaning of what has happened. What has happened is that this violation of his wife has impugned his honour. There is an inversion of victim primacy: Emad sees himself and becomes the main victim. And he is unable to give replete and deep acceptance of the damage done to Rama, because his honour, even if it is a fake display dishonestly assumed in bad faith, castes a shadow over the relationship.

    The relationship is now about display as Emad defaults to the cultural prescription to restore his honour. Not hers. He becomes ‘the salesman’ determined to sell to her the outward signs of his vindication. Of course Rana does not want this, she desires the opposite, an intimate private acceptance. Instead of this she has to buy, in silence, the commodity of honour which is all the salesman has on his tray. She also has to know that she and her husband can never again engage in the charade that they are equals. He is the salesman, and she has to buy whatever he sells.

    Psychically crushed by the developments in this situation, Rana retreats into a sort of cataleptic state. Muteness: the traditional sanctuary of those who have been emotionally wounded. Obversely there is an irony that in her theatrical role Rana, as Linda, can speak. In the play Rana and Emad are equals. They both speak. In filmic role Rana cannot speak. Emad cannot speak. What lies before them is silence.

    Silence seems to be an active force in Iranian society as Fahadi, in scripted tangential moments, references elements that make up the everyday experience in a city like Tehran. The ruthless nature of real estate, the wide use of smart phones , fear of the police, the omnipresence of censorship. Fahadi seems to say that you might think that the headlong rush into modernity in a city like Tehran could undermine some of the foundations of tradition; in fact it is more likely to deepen and harden brazen hypocrisy. adrin neatrour