I think there are some interesting things going on in this film, primarily in the way in which power dynamics are worked out, but behind it all there’s a very familiar, very masculine 1970s French way of looking at the world which reminds me a lot of Godard and his fellow travellers. Essentially, it’s about a semi-criminal young man (Gérard Depardieu) who finds himself drawn into the world of a professional dominatrix (Bulle Ogier). He has no money and comes to rely on her, while she makes her money by dominating submissive men, but he finds himself needing to express his own dominance in their power relationship. In some sense, he is enacting familiar patriarchal pattern of behaviour; I’m just not sure that the film is interested in exploring both their subjectivities, so much as wanting to find some compromise whereby she becomes more submissive to his will. That said, there’s a lot of interesting interplay between the two, and I at least don’t get the feeling that her sex work itself is being criticised. Ultimately, it feels very much like a period piece.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Barbet Schroeder; Writers Schroeder and Paul Voujargol; Cinematographer Néstor Almendros; Starring Bulle Ogier, Gérard Depardieu; Length 112 minutes.
Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Monday 20 August 2018.
Like a proto-Jeanne Dielman, nothing much happens in this film. Or everything maybe. It’s a quiet film, with long stretches barely even encumbered with sound effects let alone dialogue or music. Frequently figures have a spectral presence, as names on a tag, a closing door, voices off camera, a shadow on a wall. The set up is two women (sisters perhaps?) and the troubled daughter of the title. A lot of looking off frame, out of windows, and an amusing role for young Gérard Depardieu as a fumbling salesman while the women just shake their heads quietly at him, saying no. I think a lot more is going on here than is initially apparent (there’s a background radio story about young killers on the loose), but it asks the audience to fill in much of the blanks, a bold narrative strategy. I suspect if I watched it again there would even more mystery, something lacking in too many films.
Director/Writer Marguerite Duras; Cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet; Starring Lucia Bosé, Jeanne Moreau, Gérard Depardieu; Length 83 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Saturday 1 October 2016.
The films of Abel Ferrara are a bit of a challenge it must be said: aggressively confrontational and fascinated by the sordid depredations of fleshy corporeality. I haven’t seen his Bad Lieutenant (1993) for years, but this new film feels of a piece, being about a corrupt (and corrupted) public official, unafraid to let it all hang out and to flirt with a sense of quotidian ennui. On the first point, there’s the ageing Gérard Depardieu playing Georges Devereaux, a French bureaucrat heading an international financial organisation in New York, a man whose carnal tastes are pursued not only behind hotel room doors, but even in his office (after the credits, the film gets straight into a rather awkward business meeting). On the second point is the way all this is presented, at length and with the camera often uncomfortably close-in to proceedings — lengthy (and rather tedious) orgy scenes kick things off, but later, after Devereaux’s predictable fall from grace, there are similarly lengthy procedural scenes following him through the justice system to home imprisonment.
The story is a thinly-veiled rendering of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn abuse case (he was alleged to have sexually assaulted a hotel maid, but was never convicted). The film, though, maintains a self-conscious charade of fiction with habitual playful references to its own constructedness (a pre-credits sequence of Depardieu being interviewed about the role, and occasional breaking of the fourth wall by having him address the camera directly). All this is necessary because the character of Devereaux is never presented as anything less than fully culpable for his actions. The film thus becomes a character study of a bitterly pathetic man, one apparently at war with himself and with those around him. Following his arrest, his New York-born wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset) enters the fray, a woman with the self-interested ambitions her husband lacks, and very unwilling to continue putting up with his behaviour. Like much of Ferrara’s work, it feels a bit like car-crash cinema at times: a film about repellent people presented in an at-times rather sleazy way, and yet it’s fascinating.
Director Abel Ferrara; Writers Ferrara and Christ Zois; Cinematographer Ken Kelsch; Starring Gérard Depardieu, Jacqueline Bisset; Length 125 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Soho, London, Sunday 10 August 2014.