The first thing that happens in Elle is something that’s heard but not seen — the sounds of heavy breathing and bodies in motion, rubbing against each other. It’s almost certainly the sound of a sex scene, but there’s an aggression to it that suggests either exceptionally good sex or really, really bad sex — an act of violence. The smash of breaking glass is inconclusive, and the quick gasps and grunts don’t clarify a thing; divorced from visual context, they are uncommunicative, inconclusive fragments of expression. It’s an unnerving way to stage what is eventually revealed as a horrifying scene — a woman is brutally raped by a masked intruder — and of course Paul Verhoeven knows it. The director’s first major film in 10 years is as sensational a crime drama as you’d expect from the director of Basic Instinct and Showgirls, a cutting psychological study anchored by ugly, explicit rape scenes. Its restrained look and feel are a far cry from the gleeful chaos favored by the Verhoeven of the 1970s, the poster boy for Dutch auteurism on the international scene. That filmmaker all but vanished during the director’s stay in Hollywood, only to resurface with the pulpy and absorbing Nazi resistance drama Black Book. But as lurid as Elle is, Verhoeven’s style is resolutely low-key. I suspect he’s deliberately channeling the austere Euro-drama of Michael Haneke, couching his irrepressible mischievousness in the international language of the arthouse. Continue reading
Didn’t want to miss this after hearing the stories from Sundance, but as it turns out I didn’t like this any better than McKee’s other films. Tarted up as a feminist parable, the film is a little too gleefully judgmental of a certain category of women that it believes are complicit in their own exploitation. At any rate, the patronizing gender studies mesh poorly with McKee’s slapdash directorial technique, and the slow-moving film is saddled with a jarring rock-and-roll song score and an ersatz 1970s editorial style that verges on self-parody. The best thing about McKee is the women he surrounds himself with, and the line-up of Angela Bettis, Carlee Baker, teenage Lauren Ashley Carter, and smoldering savage Pollyanna McIntosh, in a purely physical role, makes this easy enough to watch without quite dispelling the puerile didacticism of the whole affair. Sean Bridgers, too, playing a candidate for World’s Worst Dad, has some moments. The performances tug at the story’s more interesting undercurrents, trying to pull something up to the surface, and I kept imagining the myriad ways another director might have made something better and more urgent than McKee’s awkwardly sunlit mix of deadpan humor and grim endurance test. I’ll bet Rob Zombie’s The Woman would be something to see.
It’s feeding time for the monsters again in director Aldo Lado’s 1974 quasi-giallo Night Train Murders, which sees the young and lovely Margaret and Lisa (Irene Miracle and Laura D’Angelo, respectively, making their film debuts) cross paths with violent criminals while travelling overnight by rail from Germany through Austria to Italy. The stage is set as Pacino-esque stickup man Blackie and his harmonica-blowing sidekick Curly (Flavio Bucci and
Gianfranco De Grassi) mug an alcoholic sidewalk Santa Claus in Munich’s Marienplatz. Menace! With that kind of element loose in the cities, why would two girls choose to ride some skeevy midnight train into Italy instead of opting for a sensible air flight? From one mother to another, via telephone: “Planes are never on time these days.”