May 24, 2010

World on a Wire (1973)

West Germany

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

205 min

Fassbinder is most widely known as the prolific director of Sirkian melodramas that exposed the moral hypocrisy at the core of West German society in the post-war years, whether it’s the critique of Adenauer’s ‘economic miracle’ in ‘The Marriage of Maria von Braun’ (1979) or racial and generation divisions in ‘Fear Eats the Soul’ (1974). Fassbinder held an uncomfortable mirror to a country that had at least on the surface or in its own collective consciousness, had laid the ghosts of Nazi Germany to rest. Fassbinder reminded it however, that this ‘success’ was illusory and where it had been achieved, it had come at a price.

If Fassbinder’s reputation rests on these films, then this means that several others he directed that didn’t overtly address social, economic and political issues, could easily be unfairly overlooked. ‘World on a Wire’ is such a film. Certainly in the Fassbinder canon, it stands out as an oddity. Made for German television during one of his most personally creative periods (‘Fear Eats the Soul’ and ‘Effi Briest’ almost immediately followed), it’s an adaptation of the science fiction novel ‘Simulacron-3’ by the American writer Daniel F. Galouye. Although Fassbinder personally adapted the novel, one wonders whether it was his original idea to make this film. Given what we know of his prior and subsequent career, science fiction appears a strange direction, though Fassbinder might have seen it as an opportunity to wrongfoot his audience and critics and to demonstrate his versatility.

In a convoluted narrative that really needs to be followed closely in order to appreciate precisely what’s going on, the IKZ cybernetics institute has developed a simulation programme that features thousands of ‘identity units’ living as human beings, thinking they’re human beings, acquiring memory and consciences. Corporate paranoia and intrigue manifests itself in betrayal and murder, though we’re constantly asked to consider what we see; whether this is the real or simulated world, or whether indeed, there’s more than one level of simulation. Although this scenario sounds familiar to modern audiences; there’s parallels with The Matrix series of films, and Galouye’s novel was filmed in 1999 as ‘The Thirteenth Floor’, Fassbinder has a different emphasis from the traditional set up of science fiction films. He eschews any interest in action sequences, which are kept to a minimum. Instead, ‘World on a Wire’ is more of an intellectual and philosophical film, discussing the theories of Plato and Zeno amongst others. Fassbinder often employs his camera urgently (courtesy of his cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, now Martin Scorsese’s DoP of choice) and the set design keeps the film rooted in the contemporary (e.g. 1970s) style rather than suggesting a more optimistic aesthetic of the future. His usual acting stock participate. All these elements taken together suggest therefore that Fassbinder had more of a personal investment in this film that one might initially imagine. It features numerous hallmarks of the classic Fassbinder film and style.

‘World on a Wire’ had been unavailable almost since its original transmission. It had never been broadcast in cinemas and had only been shown on German television on a few occasions. Thanks to Second Sight, an important moment in Fassbinder’s film making career has been restored and is now ripe for rediscovery.

‘World on a Wire’ is released by Second Sight films on 17 May 2010

April 27, 2010

Earth (1930)

Soviet Union

Director: Aleksandr Dovzhenko

75 min

Cinema was a vital tool for Communism and no-one understood this better than the ruling elite of the Soviet Union. The early Soviet films and film makers were artistically groundbreaking, demonstrating new, innovative cinematic techniques, but as far as the ruling elites were concerned, these films would act as propaganda to consolidate the revolution and further spread the word of its success. Eisenstein is justly celebrated as one of the great directors of world cinema (‘Strike’, ‘October’, ‘The Battleship Potemkin’ make up part of his early period). Dovzhenko is just as important in Soviet cinema, even if his name and reputation doesn’t resonate quite as much as that of his contemporary. Certainly, there’s a case to be made that ‘Earth’ is every bit the equal of ‘…Potemkin’ in the impact it had, not just socially but also in terms of the development of cinema.

Dovzhenko begins and ends with similar striking scenes. In the first, a man, Simon, peacefully dies in a fruit orchard. Dovzhenko uses a succession of close-ups of the faces of his family, whilst also cutting to shots of sweeping cornfields and the bountiful fruit harvests. This scene is near-reprised at the film’s conclusion. The wind sweeps the cornfields more aggressively, whilst heavy rain soaks the fruit orchard. Whether this ambiguous final scene bears any political message, it’s difficult to say. Certainly it would have to have been very oblique to have passed the censors. In between, Dovzhenko makes reference to the changing political and economic tide in Russia/Soviet Union within a Ukrainian rural environment. In the dying days of the Tsarist regime, an affluent class of peasants (kulaks) were liberated and rose in stature, taking over single, family owned farms. The younger generation encourage insurrection and use new technologies (tractors); the logical conclusion of which is Soviet style collectivisation of farms, as seems to be the trend by the film’s conclusion.

Dovzhenko’s film is a rejection of old values, including religion and class, whilst celebrating more affirmative action and the changes that Stalin, in particular, would introduce for good or ill. ‘Earth’ is a masterpiece of Soviet montage theory, fusing realism and symbolism and achieving a rich sense of visual poetry. It is a high point not just in Soviet cinema, but in silent cinema too.

‘Earth’ is released by Mr Bongo films on 17 May 2010.

April 14, 2010

On hiatus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Wilson @ 11:19 pm

This blog is currently on hiatus. Updates will be very sporadic. The latest Criterion forum project is to determine a canon for the period 1895-1919 so most of my viewing will now be from this era. Accordingly, I have set up a blog exclusively for this.

Please visit this blog for the immediate future.

February 3, 2010

Films of the 00s – a personal list

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Wilson @ 7:45 pm

as submitted to the Criterion forum…

Hidden (Haneke)
In The Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai)
There Will Be Blood (Anderson)
Amelie (Jeunet)
4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days (Mungiu)
The Class (Cantet)
Elephant (van Sant)
The Edge of Heaven (Akin)
The Return (Zvyagintsev)
Ivan’s XTC (Rose)

Ten (Kiarostami)
High Fidelity (Frears)
Still Life (Jia Zhangke)
The Lives of Others (von Donnersmarck)
Climates (Ceylan)
Let The Right One In (Alfredson)
Far From Heaven (Haynes)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Del Toro)
The Headless Woman (Martel)
Dogville (von Trier)

The White Ribbon (Haneke)
AI: Artificial Intelligence (Spielberg)
Talk to Her (Almodovar)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Schnabel)
The New World (Malick)
The Son’s Room (Moretti)
House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou)
The Hurt Locker (Bigelow)
Bright Star (Campion)
XXY (Puenzo)

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Audiard)
2046 (Wong Kar-Wai)
Head On (Akin)
The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming Liang)
Three Times (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
A One and a Two (Yang)
Once (Carney)
Spirited Away (Miyazaki)
Taxi to the Dark Side (Gibney)
Brick (Johnson)

Mysterious Skin (Araki)
Audition (Miike)
The Son (Dardenne Bros.)
Waking Life (Linklater)
The Day I Became a Woman (Meshkini)
Volver (Almodovar)
In the City of Sylvia (Guerin)
Two Lovers (Gray)
The Piano Teacher (Haneke)
The World (Jia Zhangke)

February 1, 2010

Adapting modern classics….

Two recent novels that have already been classified in some circles as ‘classics’ of their time have been recently adapted for cinema. First we have ‘The Road’ (2009), based on Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel. McCarthy is of course hot property in Hollywood after the Oscar-winning success of ‘No Country for Old Men’ (2007), the Coen brothers’ adaptation of his 2005 novel of same name. Billy Bob Thornton’s 2000 film of 1992’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’ had been a critical and commercial failure, but that’s in the past. Expect more McCarthy novels, especially 1985’s ‘Blood Meridian’ to receive the Hollywood treatment shortly.

‘The Road’ is directed by Australian film maker John Hillcoat; a perfect choice one might think after the success of his 2005 film ‘The Proposition’, a collaboration with Nick Cave, starring Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone and Emily Watson. Its setting of a hostile, uncivilised Australia in the final years of the 19th century makes the terrain of ‘The Road’, in a dystopian America where a natural disaster has destroyed civilisation as we know it, almost second nature to Hillcoat. ‘The Road’ was unique for how it was written. Seldom descriptive, it was based around memories and speech, mainly from its central protagonist, ‘the Man’, who tries to survive, along with his son, in these exceptional circumstances. One might imagine therefore that adapting it into a feature film might be difficult, but Hillcoat makes a more than accomplished stab at it, retaining the style in which the novel was written and making Viggo Mortensen, as ‘the Man’ both narrator and central protagonist. The film, as is the case in the novel, is based around a relationship between ‘the Man’ and his son. ‘The Man’ might know their journey is futile, that there’s little hope of survival and there are dangers everywhere. Hillcoat doesn’t shy away from showing these either and with this, he captures every potential emotion that his characters feel. Some have questioned the resolution of the film (which mirrors the novel), describing it as conveniently satisfying. I don’t agree this is the case. This is a world where the dead are fortunate as the living can never hope to develop any kind of civilisation. Survival exists purely on a day to day basis. In this respect, ‘The Road’ retains a deeply pessimistic message and is as every bit as emotionally devastating as one might imagine.

‘Disgrace’ (2008), on the other hand, is based on the 1999 Booker-winning novel of same name by the South African born, Australian based writer J.M. Coetzee. A much more modest production altogether, funded by Australian/South African finance, it’s directed by Steve Jacobs, another Australian film maker without much experience under his belt thus far. John Malkovich, with a South African accent that demonstrates effort rather than execution, will inevitably provide the film with more exposure than it otherwise would have received. He was no doubt attracted to the film because of its literary significance – with the central role of David Lurie being something that Malkovich can really sink his teeth into.

As if aware of Coetzee’s reputation, the film makers ensure they protect it, adapting his novel as though it’s a sacred artefact. It’s a careful, respectful adaptation, adhering to the text at all times. The strength of the film is the strength of the original source. Coetzee presented an allegory of the social and political circumstances of post-apartheid South Africa through the ‘disgrace’ of Lurie, a divorced, fiftysomething lecturer who seduces a young student and resigns from his position, before moving to the countryside to visit his daughter who owns a farm. It’s here where the political situation is really changing, as the white farmers are gradually replaced by the indigenous community, which manifests itself in a shocking, violent act that changes the lives of the central protagonists irrevocably.

Jacobs allows Malkovich to draw out Lurie’s character as far as Coetzee developed it in his novel. He holds little back. We are privy to Lurie’s arrogance, his impetuous nature, his complacency – all of which are dismantled in the allegorical changing of the guard in South Africa. Jessica Haines, as his daughter Lucy, arguably possesses the strongest role – seemingly more at home in these exceptional circumstances, able to come to terms with them. Her pragmatism in the wake of what she endures during the most powerful scenes sets her sharply at odds with her father. Since Coetzee had fleshed out these real, believable, complex individuals, it’s no surprise that ‘Disgrace’ showcases excellent acting talent and these actors are given perhaps the finest roles they’ll ever receive in their careers. The modest origins of ‘Disgrace’ means though that often it pays too much reverence to Coetzee, that we never see much external creative input. The same could be said of ‘The Road’. It’s not a criticism as such, but just an acknowledgement of what is usually considered when adaptations of great novels are prepared.

‘Disgrace’ is released on DVD on 8 February by ICA Films

January 10, 2010

Daybreakers (2009)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Wilson @ 7:12 pm
Tags: , , , ,


Directors: Michael Spierig/Peter Spierig

98 min

Two Hollywood studio executives overheard in discussion:

A: So if we don’t come up with any new and more importantly profitable ideas, we’re both looking at a one way trip to the welfare line.
B: Hmm, well you know what the kids love these days? VAMPIRES!
A: Vampires. I like it. But how do we come up with something different? The kids are all about Twilight these days.
B: Well let’s just take someone like the main guy from Twilight and introduce him to this dystopian America of the future where 95% of the world’s population and vampires and the remaining 5% of humans are dying out. Our guy’s a sympathetic vampire, someone we can root for. He doesn’t want to feed off humans, he wants to be human.
A: I’m listening. But dystopian? Sounds expensive.
B: We can film it in Australia for half the costs and take advantage of the tax breaks and government subsidies.
A: That’s more like it. But who should we have as our lead?
B: Brad? Leo?
A: With their salary bracket? No way. We need someone less pretty but who can pass as vulnerable and doe-eyed for the female demographic. But tough enough for the dudes. Someone like…..
B: Ethan Hawke!
A: Yes, he’s done that “doesn’t make sense” sci-fi bullshit in Gattaca and he’ll only cost [taps away at calculator] a tenth of what Brad or Leo would ask for. We need some cheap rent-a-bad guys to beef up the casting. I’m thinking….
B: Sam Neill as a nefarious businessman and Willem Dafoe as a vampire-turned-human?
A: Interesting. But wait, how would Dafoe become human?
B: Don’t worry about that. Kids’ll buy anything. Just spout some pseudo-scientific tosh and make it sound semi-credible.
A: I see. But how will the human race survive? The odds are pretty stacked against it, you have to admit.
B: Well, the vampires are ravenous, so when they bite the vampires-turned-human, they too become human. And give it enough time, the whole population becomes human again. And this means we can liberally unleash blood and violence to impress the dudes who think the movie’s too pussy so far.
A: Cool. So how does it end?
B: It doesn’t. We deliberately leave a really rubbish ending to ensure the inevitable sequel or four.
A: B….you know that sports car you’ve always dreamed of? Make a deposit on it. Because we’re about to make shitloads of $$$

January 6, 2010

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ‘Inferno’ (2009)


Directors: Serge Bromberg/Ruxandra Medrea

102 min

Henri-Georges Clouzot was without doubt one of the finest film makers France has produced. He has made at least three undisputable masterpieces; ‘Le Corbeau’ (1943 – loathed by both the Vichy government and the French resistance), ‘The Wages of Fear’ (1953) and ‘Diabolique’ (1955). In the following years, with Clouzot still at the height of his creative powers, the dynamics of film making changed in France as the older guard were usurped and replaced by the Nouvelle Vague generation. Perhaps in response to this, though Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963) is often cited as an inspiration, Clouzot embarked upon his most ambitious film to date, ‘Inferno’.

Bromberg and Medrea’s documentary is the definitive account of this unfinished film. They began by working with the 15 hours of scenes that had been found and began to piece together what Clouzot’s vision of the film might have been. Where there were gaps in what was filmed from what was in the script, they used actors to play the parts. In addition to this, they interviewed remaining key personnel from the film to try to obtain a glimpse of how ‘Inferno’ developed as a project, how it began to be filmed and ultimately, how it was aborted, effectively ending Clouzot’s directorial career in the process.

Whilst the acting and interviews are insightful enough, what really fascinates us most is the surviving footage from the abandoned film. Clouzot proposed a radical, bold new approach to film making, with his use of colour, lighting and sound design promising much in the means of cinematic innovation. Clouzot was working with an unlimited budget, with multiple crews and more than 150 technicians, and in the grand tradition of these things, anything that could go wrong did! Clouzot fell out with his lead actor, Serge Regianni, who walked off the set. Scenes were rewritten and refilmed on the spot, with the director insisting on numerous takes unnecessary, whilst Clouzot himself later had a heart attack that stalled the project forever. What survives though gives every impression that ‘Inferno’ could have been yet another Clouzot masterpiece. The basic premise; of a husband’s jealousy of his wife, whom he suspects of having an affair, is typical of Clouzot’s misanthropic world view, but it’s how he proposed to depict this that’s truly spellbinding. The focus seemed to be dealing with the husband’s psychological state. The shift between black and white and colour would define his descent from ‘normalcy’ to delusional. Distorted sound effects, such as speech being altered, would further reflect this. Certainly more ambitious than what Clouzot had arguably attempted in his previous films, it’s this ambition that ultimately would be the film’s downfall.

This screening was shown as part of a double bill with ‘Diabolique’, probably considered the director’s greatest film, with good reason. It’s one of the great psychological thrillers; chilling from start to finish. As grim in its depiction of human nature as any of his films, it suggests a world where the living are dead and the dead return to life. The final sequence is as great as anything committed to celluloid and the impact upon Hitchcock is clear, from the warning about the revealing the ending that was used in ‘Psycho’ (1960) to the use of the film’s writers for ‘Vertigo’ (1958)

December 28, 2009

The Box (2009)


Director: Richard Kelly

115 min

Few new directorial careers have been as turbulent as Richard Kelly’s. His debut feature ‘Donnie Darko’ (2001) is one of the decade’s most beloved cult films, though I have to admit to feeling fairly agnostic about it personally. It made a star out of Jake Gyllenhaal and has not only acquired widespread critical success but also a healthy commercial life on DVD. At this point, the world was Kelly’s oyster. Inevitably, however, fate had different ideas. ‘Southland Tales’ (2007), a dystopian comedy-drama featuring actors of such dubious calibre as The Rock, Justin Timberlake and Sarah Michelle Gellar might have premiered at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, but the general critical consensus was highly negative. And with Hollywood an unforgiving environment, Kelly has almost had to begin from scratch and rebuild his reputation.

‘The Box’ is Kelly’s opportunity to do so. Small-ish in budget as Hollywood thrillers go ($30m), it has several things going for it. First, it’s based on a well-known Richard Matheson (of ‘I Am Legend’ fame) short story. Second, Cameron Diaz is the film’s main selling point and no doubt she perceives ‘The Box’ as the chance to flex her acting muscles in a way most of the frivolous films she works on don’t. And third, the score is performed by members of the acclaimed Canadian band, Arcade Fire. Given these core ingredients, you’d be forgiven for brash optimism. Yet there’s something about Kelly that seems wilfully self-destructive. He’s clearly a talented film maker, not a generic studio hack, but he manages to handicap all of his films in some way, potentially fatally. There’s no way he’ll ever deliver a straight down the line product, which is fine as it shows a willingness to try something out of the ordinary. However, credibility seems to be the last thing he’s ever interested in, and ‘The Box’ suffers from this too.

The essential conceit of Matheson’s short story is well established – a mysterious man approaches a married couple and offers them a sum of money to press a button that apparently will result in the death of a stranger. Kelly takes this concept but develops it, taking it into several different directions that sometimes seem plausible, sometimes don’t, that sometimes seem well handled, sometimes don’t. Great film makers often leave plenty in their films unresolved, to allow us, the audience to interpret the film in whichever way we wish. This is usually because the film maker in question has left myriad possibilities for us to comprehend. Kelly too leaves more questions than answers, though not quite in the same way. For instance, Kelly adds an extra-terrestrial dimension to Matheson’s original idea – that Frank Langella’s character is testing the human race to consider whether it’s worthy of survival – the selfishness of the married couple suggests not, but the issue of NASA’s explorations upon Mars and the husband’s role in all of this is left mostly unexplored. The library sequence too is a complete WTF moment and even the loose explanation for it, much like the scientific basis behind ‘Donnie Darko’ is resolutely unconvincing. It’s almost as though Kelly has these ideas and works them into his film regardless of whether they seem to make any sense or not or even seem relevant to what has occurred previously.

That said, even given the flaws of ‘The Box’ and there are plenty, it’s a film that strangely stays with you. Even the most seemingly trivial incidents begin to make you think. Maybe this is because the film seems so half-arsed in many ways, that you kind of wish it was better so you deliberately force yourself to try to comprehend it. Or maybe that’s just my experience of it. Still, it’s the kind of film I’d perversely recommend. I don’t think it’s especially good and much of the inevitable backlash it’ll receive is warranted, but ‘The Box’ as made by a different director would have been a completely different film – completely mediocre, a safe package, all strands of the narrative loosely, neatly arranged to “make sense”. Kelly at least deserves some credit for delivering something unexpected. It’s a head-scratcher, sure, and probably the most bizarre Hollywood film of the year.

December 20, 2009

The White Ribbon (2009)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Wilson @ 10:58 pm
Tags: , , ,


Director: Michael Haneke

144 min

The award of the prestigious Palme D’Or to ‘The White Ribbon’ at this year’s Cannes film festival acted not only as recognition for the film itself, which it certainly deserved, but also for the cumulative career of its director. Michael Haneke almost certainly is the most consistent and acclaimed film maker of his generation. Just look at the previous films he’s directed; ‘Benny’s Video’, ‘Funny Games’, ‘The Piano Teacher’, ‘Hidden’…. – all of which could be genuinely described as masterpieces. The present period of Haneke’s career is not only his most commercially viable (‘Hidden’ made over £1m at the UK box office, almost unheard of for a non-English language film) but also his most creatively fulfilling. ‘Hidden’ is a candidate for the finest film made anywhere in the world this decade; a scathing look at contemporary racism in France and also its colonial past. It confirmed Haneke as cinema’s moral conscience, as a film maker who holds a mirror to society and reveals the ugly details we’d rather not acknowledge, though it’s something that’s brought Haneke as many critics as admirers.

Such was the impact of ‘Hidden’, it’d be easy to think Haneke couldn’t match it, but ‘The White Ribbon’ is every bit as brilliant. Aesthetically, it’s informed by Dreyer and Bergman, shot in crisp black and white (the sterling work of Haneke’s regular DoP Christian Berger cannot be underestimated); thematically, it draws inspiration in part on Clouzot’s ‘Le Corbeau’ (oddly a comparison that seems to have eluded most critics). Set in a North German Protestant community in the immediate years before the First World War, a narrator whom we later discover to be a schoolteacher, recalls from his semi-reliable memory, a series of strange events that took place – including a doctor falling from his horse, a labourer dying in an accident, a barn being burned, children being attacked – all of which loosely hint at the ascent of Fascism in the next two decades, though this point is never laboured over.

‘The White Ribbon’ develops a number of themes that ‘Hidden’ touched upon. The loose implication of the film is that some or all of the disturbing acts in the film were committed by some of the town’s children (or at least they look as guilty as anyone else) – this would be the generation that would vote in Hitler or even worse participate in the Nazi civic society – this suggests the passing of sins from one generation to another. In this patriarchal society, superficially respectable, moral ineptitude and hypocrisy is abundant. The doctor has a sadistic affair with his midwife, who accepts his abuse, whilst the pastor rules his house with an evangelical zeal, resorting to cathartic violence when the children step out of line, which only fuels their rebellion (the title comes from the ribbon he ties to his children to remind them of their purity).

The issue of who committed these acts of violence, much like who sent the videotapes in ‘Hidden’ is something of red herring. These acts are a device to expose the problems within a community. But Haneke uses the thriller genre to his advantage, to create something much more cerebral. Haneke’s films are tricky, never easy to pin down. He offers far more questions than answers. There’s no facile tying up of loose ends. Much is left to us, the audience, to interpret what he’s presenting us with. This is what good cinema does. It gives us space to think, to feel, to understand. ‘The White Ribbon’ is the work of a film maker going from strength to strength as though it’s even possible.

December 2, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience (2009)


Director: Steven Soderbergh

77 min

In between the diminishing returns of the Oceans franchise, Steven Soderbergh has rediscovered his radical, experimental impulse, almost as if in reaction to the commercial dross that he’s worked on since his career was revived with 1998’s ‘Out of Sight’. There was 2002’s ‘Full Frontal’ and 2005’s ‘Bubble’, films he could probably only get made because of his connections and success with more mainstream films. Now we have the next instalment of this type of film making – ‘The Girlfriend Experience’. The critical reception of all of Soderbergh’s more esoteric, arthouse films has always been mixed. It probably doesn’t matter to Soderbergh one iota – as far as he’s concerned, pushing the boundaries of what he’s capable of is what motivates him with these smaller chamber pieces.

The basic premise of ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ is observing the life of a high-class Manhattan escort during the economic downturn. The intriguing casting decision here is to use a real-life pornographic actress in the lead role. I’m assured Sasha Grey is one of the most prolific and successful actresses in her field, but her experience here might only be part of the reason why she was cast. Ms Grey is actually an interesting woman in her own right, with various non-pornographic interests and an apparent rich knowledge of cinema. Indeed, before she settled on her stage name, she toyed with naming herself Anna Karina. As to whether Ms Grey is a competent ‘straight’ actress or otherwise is a matter of debate. Part of the issue is the role she’s assigned. Her Chelsea is a somewhat vacant, vapid woman, who might have a boyfriend who accepts her choice of occupation, but she herself is an emotionally blank canvass. How much did Soderbergh have to encourage her to act or is this just how Ms Grey is, and she is effectively playing herself? Not that this probably matters especially.

The metaphor of prostitution as capitalism has been widely used in cinema since its advent and is hardly in itself original. Godard’s twin films of ‘Vivre Sa Vie’ and ‘Two of Three Things I Know About Her’ are strong examples of this and were reported to have been influences upon ‘The Girlfriend Experience’. But arguably it’s less a film about prostitution per sé and more a film about capitalism in the 21st century. Set against the economic downturn and presidential election of 2008, Soderbergh looks uncertainly at the future. Many of Chelsea’s clients are struggling businessmen and they readily divulge their anxieties about the depression. Chelsea’s own boyfriend, Chris, is an ambitious personal trainer who attempts himself to climb the greasy pole of business, much as his girlfriend does. But is one form of capitalism more ethical than another? Chris ingratiates himself with a bunch of yuppies on their way to a blow-out in Las Vegas, hardly established as the most sympathetic of characters. When Chelsea, newly separated from Chris, lets her emotions and business mix, the results are unsatisfactory. There are hints though at something beneath the surface of Chelsea, though this moment of hubris is a little misjudged.

Where Soderbergh really impresses is with his visuals, as you would expect. The director himself revealed two main influences in terms of the use of colour; Antonioni’s ‘The Red Desert’ and Bergman’s ‘Cries and Whispers’. Notwithstanding the film’s meagre budget, it’s still a striking piece of work. The framing of shots is often distorted for effect, which ties in with the glacial emotional feel of a film that’s clearly under the influence of Antonioni (one of Ms Grey’s favourite film makers as well apparently). It’s very much a non-chronological film, with frequent flashbacks and fast-forwards. Soderbergh remains radical in his approach to film making, controlling all aspects of it from start to finish. However, the film lacks bite and substance. If it is an attack on capitalism and the current financial climate, it’s a pretty vague one. We learn little more about contemporary corporate America than we do about Chelsea herself. ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ is a worthwhile experiment and worth seeing, but with reservations attached.

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