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"Eva" is based on a novel by James Hadley Chase, the British writer of American "tough-guy" novels. Director Joseph Losey overlays a cryptic story of alienation and obsession, and the beautiful photography makes the life of the film seem simultaneously glamorous and lonely.
But inside this modish story of a not-very-admirable man and the evil woman he falls in love with is a rollicking old noir screaming to be let out, with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer as the femme fatale.
Contemporary Hollywood-style, one-thought-at-a-time storytelling is conspicuously absent here. The audience has to work to connect the dots in this film - there's no directorial hand on the back of your neck, turning your head to look at this road sign, then that, then the other. A requirement of active audience effort was once taken for granted, but is now much more rare and may be an unfamiliar experience for some viewers.
Jeanne Moreau is compulsively watchable (as always) as a woman who thinks, but we rarely know about what. The improbably handsome Stanley Baker has the time of his life acting for once, rather than punching someone's chin every twelve minutes, as in most of his films. Virna Lisi has dignity and consequence as the good girl whose love is never valued enough.
The underlying story of the film is a classic fantasy of male self-justification - man chases the wrong woman, one who treats all men badly because she can. The man lets himself be led around by his privates, he thinks with the wrong part of his body, and then he blames the hash he makes of things on the "evil" woman (see Adam's explanation to God in the Garden of Eden story). Another predessor of the film is Hogarth's The Rake's Progress.
Who the other characters are and what their motivations might be are minor questions - they are peripheral figures who only serve to focus the film on the central issues of male weakness and female inscrutability. The eternal question, "What do women want?", is enough to destroy the unstable male protagonist, and we watch him unravel in the beautifully photographed surroundings of Venice and Rome. The admirable letterbox transfer looks particularly seductive on a big-screen TV.
If you ever wondered what a film might look like that combined "The Blue Angel," "L'Avventura" and "Out of the Past," this is about as close as you'll get. Recommended to all except the most passive viewers.
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