Criterion Sunday 223: Maîtresse (1973)

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

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Criterion Sunday 107: Mona Lisa (1986)

Bob Hoskins once again plays a Cockney gangster, and though my initial instinct is to assume his character (who begins the film recently released from prison) was locked up just after the events of The Long Good Friday (1980), given he seems surprised his street now has a large number of black residents, maybe he’s been locked up since the 1940s. Perhaps the filmmakers just took ‘film noir’ a bit literally, but underlying it is a well-meaning attempt to grapple with societal changes that must have seemed like a chasm following a series of race-based riots in the early-1980s. I’m not convinced all the racial politics really hold up (and how many films do after a few decades?) but at least there’s representation, even in the form of that filmmakers’ favourite stereotype: a high-class prostitute and her pimp (who incidentally is played by a much younger Clarke Peters from The Wire, albeit with no dialogue that I noticed). It’s strictly geezers and seedy London locales, and it’s by no means a badly made or acted film. Hoskins, along with Cathy Tyson as the titular character — and even Michael Caine as a gang boss — do good work. Let’s just say it’s of its High Thatcherite era.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Neil Jordan | Writers Neil Jordan and David Leland | Cinematographer Roger Pratt | Starring Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine, Robbie Coltrane | Length 104 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Monday 18 July 2016

Afternoon Delight (2013)

This is an odd film, and there are things about it I really like, but ultimately it just comes across as somewhat introspective and petit bourgeois. It’s about suburban ennui, specifically that felt by middle-class mother Rachel (Kathryn Hahn). She’s married to the slightly boring Jeff (Josh Radnor, the most annoying character on How I Met Your Mother), and does her best to work through her issues with her offbeat psychiatrist Lenore (Jane Lynch, with quite the most distracting glasses seen in recent cinema). The plot stretches credulity somewhat in orchestrating her becoming friends with a stripper, McKenna (Juno Temple), but once that initial meeting is out of the way, it starts to promise something rather radical in exploring the overlap between McKenna’s sex work and Rachel’s frustrated desires, although it feels to me like it doesn’t quite deliver on that. There’s some melodrama, but the film remains closely focused on Rachel breaking out of what ultimately feels like a mid-life crisis. Still, Hahn does well with the central role, and there’s some excellent supporting work (notably Michaela Watkins as a hyperorganised busybody in Rachel’s Jewish women’s group).


FILM REVIEW
Director/Writer Jill Soloway | Cinematographer Jim Frohna | Starring Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch, Michaela Watkins | Length 97 minutes || Seen at home (streaming), London, Friday 30 October 2015

Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

It makes for fairly depressing viewing, this documentary, and I’m not convinced that any film about the porn industry could ever fail to be, at least a little bit. Then again, there are times during Hot Girls Wanted when I can’t help but feel we’re only being given part of the picture. It’s clearly an exploitative profession, and the film’s focus is on young women who have just turned 18 getting into the business, so the angle is that these women are prey for a rapacious industry that demands constant turnover of talent. And yes, quite a bit of the work we see them doing is blatantly misogynist, particularly the unsettling abuse porn. But at the same time it’s refreshing to hear from the women themselves, all of whom, despite their ages, are intelligent and self-possessed and hardly seem particularly ingenuous about what they’re getting involved with. The film makes it clear that most women are in the industry for only very short amounts of time (less than 6 months in most cases), though the end titles reveal that two of the five young women who are featured most prominently are still in the industry, so perhaps there’s an angle with their stories that wasn’t quite so evident. What the film prefers to focus on is the importance of social media (particularly Twitter, which informs the film’s on-screen titling), as well as the way that the work influences the women’s families and relationships, and to a lesser extent the casually possessive and derogatory way of some of the (male) filmmakers and agents. Perhaps indeed more regulation is required, and this feels like the film’s big message, but from what we see it almost looks like a quaint cottage industry (our talent scout is a puppy-loving 23-year-old dude, and the male actors all seem little more than pathetic). That said, I’m hardly about to mount a vigorous defence of pornography. Another of the ideas the film toys with in an early sequence is the way that the pornography industry redefines how people see and present themselves and the way that this affects their interactions at a far wider level (and social media certainly plays a part there) — and I think there’s a far more angry film to be made about that. However, as a film about the human cost of working within this world, I’d have liked to have heard more from the women who stuck around. In some ways, I think that might have been more challenging.

NB: This doesn’t technically qualify for my New Year’s Resolution, as it wasn’t officially released to cinemas, but instead premiered on Netflix.


© Netflix

FILM REVIEW
Directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus | Writer Brittany Huckabee | Cinematographer Ronna Gradus | Length 84 minutes || Seen at home (streaming), London, Wednesday 29 July 2015