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Sudden Fear (1952)
Portrait of an Author-ess
Myra Hudson, in "Sudden Fear," has a self-directed life: she's a successful playwright, an heiress in charge of a large fortune, and the center of an artsy San Francisco social circle. She's an astute professional, sharp, intense, dignified, and absorbed in her career/life. However...god forbid, she ain't married.
So a second life plot opens up for her when she encounters Lester Blaine--the actor she has dismissed for not being "a romantic leading man" for her most recent smash Broadway hit. As a woman of around 40, she doesn't possess the social or personal props to confidently slip into or deny romance or marriage, and most certainly is typecast as an old maid, if not by all the world, than at least by the calculating mind of Lester Blaine, who must rely on her desperation to wield his narrative.
For when Blaine enters her train (to San Francisco) he starts a train of events, none of which will be in her favor. His "play," which might be called "Halfway to Hell" displaces her "Halfway to Heaven." It will understandably seem to Myra, and to a lesser extent the viewer, as a light romantic drama. For despite his raw physicality, his shifty demeanor, Lester manages to appear mild in manner, polite, and poised past any vengeance for what appeared to be a massive ego slight in his bolting stage exit. He's also surprisingly literate--and rather convincingly romantic.
At least enough to easily win Myra over. For he represents to her a lucky chance at a long missed passion. Her receptivity is so apparent that it even worries the train porter who helps the blissful couple out with Blaine's little confidence game. And Myra's descent to type is soon furthered by her quickened sympathy for Lester's life story (he's the son of a coal miner--a war vet who played sad Lenny in "Of Mice and Men")--his standard expectations soon becoming hers.
She glides along, accommodating herself to his charm, his fun sporty ways; introduces him to her fancy social set, and even arranges a party for him. Which he uses to accelerate his marriage trap, by staging, through his absence from this devotedly prepared celebration, his immense unworthiness in Myra's life. "I am no match for you." "I have no proper place in your life," he tearfully exclaims, baggage in hand, looking down on her from atop his staircase, in his most self-pitying display.
Which Myra is not only duped by, but which calls out her deepest passions: "Without you, I have NOTHING." As in no career, no success, no life; as in love super-ceding her whole existence. His charade has paid off, for Myra is flat out susceptible even to so obviously a phony, an inapt, a suitor.
No wonder Lester's certainty and suavity. No wonder he has no need to confide in her, inquire into her career, nor even respect her professional's authority. One irony is that the "good actor" doesn't have to be a very good actor at all in his own 'play.' Another is that a well-established upper class arts professional cannot begin to opine on a lower class fledgling actor. So it is, that Blaine can disarm her mind, her work, her name, her money, her independence all by a simple, casual plot.
But the powerful obloquy of the single state combined with Lester's male prerogatives, are not solely responsible for Myra's capitulation. Because her own social power, while it may not affect Blaine much, can work against her. She senses herself in charge despite all her accommodations to him. She is also too confident to question her take on him, even when it's clear that her lawyer, friends, and even Irene, Lenny's ex, do grasp his intentions. Indeed fame can offer a bit too much hubris, as in Myra quoting Nietzsche's "live dangerously" to spark Lester to action. To which he counters: "He's dead." But thanks to the twists and turns of the suspense portion of "Sudden Fear," we soon learn that Myra's identity, as thin as it may seem under the pressure of romance, is not squelched. For Lester's demonic play/plot begins to unravel, thanks to Myra's (the writer) Dictaphone machine. And, if with too many tortuous steps, she does begin to exhort her previous authority.
In the end, she grasps that her courage for revenge, is a means and not an end (she cannot obliterate Blaine or herself) in confronting and recapturing her abandoned identity. Which in the film's final moments: "It's Irene, STOP!" is even amplified through her powerful desire to save the sinning femme fatale--another typecast woman, one who is being mistaken for herself--from her own intended death sentence. She can't save this unknown sister, but she now purposely strides through the deserted, sinister street, alone, but a bold author once again.
La sarrasine (1992)
Good But Too Pat
"La Sarrasine" does deserve credit for its general conception, some of its acting (Ninetta, the wife; Pasquale, the "musician;" Lamoureux, the Italians ally; the sympathetic reporter; and Nick, the young Italian boarder, often help create distinctive, memorable scenes, and embody roles that others merely suggest), its low key approach--but only when its stuck to, and the journal writing aspect of the narration often adds warmth and caring to a generally gray, depressed, and cold scenario.
But more to the point is this Canadian film's many lapses. First, the title is more than just incoherent. The viewer must assume that "the Saracen" refers to Clorinda, the lover/victim of Tancred, in the Italians Montreal puppet show. But how does this align itself with the racial discrimination story on the screen? Is Guiseppe, the protagonist, supposed to be in Clorinda's position, and how are his French victimizers supposed to be Tancred? No way. Brain strain from any angle.
Second, "La Sarrasine" is far too instructional, and linear to make convincing the plight of Italian immigrants in Quebec. Except for Lamoureux, the French are viewed as narrow-minded, puritanical bigots; while the Italians, except for Guiseppe's defense committee (viewed as dry politicos) are embracers of life, liberalism, and a sexuality, which is contrary to the period. And so we get handed us a harsh French priest who sees Montreal as "a cesspool" and an ice cold Mrs. Lemieux who must be the extreme opposite of her Italian counterpart and her liberal brother.
Then there is the pivotal crime scene. Are we to believe that Guiseppe, with all his patience, leadership qualities, and tolerance cannot fend off a drunken greengrocer (shown as out of character monster) without shooting him dead? And why didn't he call the cops, as he threatened. Is it his stereotypy Italian hot temper which subdues his vaunted reason? No wonder his actions are off screen and no wonder they sound staged.
To Ninetta, Guiseppe's wife, his action is irrational and perhaps related to his own bullying of her. Yet, and this is another problem, her sustained battle to save her husband is the story's center. Yes, it makes sense on the level of duty--and her self-sacrificing commitment may feed the narrative, but does not give it life.
For Ninetta's strongest passions are on behalf of herself, both in opposition to her too authoritarian husband, and in her desire to maintain what independence she has achieved (5 boarders, puppet work, secretary) in Montreal--far away from the dependency of her old world family. Yes, living her own life does include supporting and being near her imprisoned husband, but except for the one scene when she laughs ticklishly in bed, whatever love she bears for Guiseppe must be indirect (note his constantly shifting tense eyes) and certainly must be deficient in passion (he slaps her across his jail cell).
But the flatness in "La Sarrasine" exists also in the stagy scenery, and a kind of enveloping grayness of landscape, both mental and physical. Many of the interior spaces seem strangely empty as do many street scenes. And the relationship between the Italians and the French, both at the bottom of the social ladder, seem too grim. The French, apart from Lamoureux, are drawn as way too narrow both in their religious and cultural attitudes and postures.
Missing in "La Sarrasine" is a moral center. Partly, I think, because it shuns the complexity of the political for the simplicity of the personal. Surely the true racist impulse in Montreal does not begin with the French or more accurately, the Quebecois. Who rules Canada? Certainly the French are as oppressed by the English, as the Italians by the French. But this is obscured by the narrative. And the journal mode, while offering some warm and human moments, foregrounds the focus on a few overly-dramatized, and rather extreme lives. Ninetta is even made to displace the whole defense committee and its fund-raising, which might have been shown to bring the two communities together. But no such public statement is made by the film, so that the private place where the viewer begins is precisely where she or he ends up.
Mat i syn (1997)
Not Every Mother's Son
"Mother and Son" is a film about solitude,self-knowledge, and death; and the contingency of the body as central to each. In other words, it shows that human-ness means an integration between the body and the self; that there is no self apart from the body; and that the love of another must embrace the self /body as one.
Sokorov's mother-son intimacy does, I think, occur, but it must be all but non-existent in western culture, especially in its films, and literature. So, it is incredible to view this silent feat.
I think much of "Mother and Son's" success lies deeply in what it refuses: modernism, post-modernism, Freudianism, doublespeak (violence is love), cynicism, misogyny, male detachment, and abstract freedom.
What "Mother and Son" accepts is an approximate equality between a woman and a man. Yes, it's the son's nurturance which compels our attention, but he's only returning what he's received. What has been her entire life as a mother and teacher, has in this short period of her illness and death, become his life--and he embraces it fully and ordinarily.
The mother's and son's mutuality is actually pretty profound. They have the same dream, share the same silences, humor, touch, and gaze. Each takes their cue from the other, compelling each other's attention in face to face, or head to head, communication. They enclose and disclose each other with a kind of certainty which comes both from their shared solitude and their loyal affection.
In a certain sense, their companionate relationship bypasses their mother and son roles. Although her concern and worries on his behalf are real, she has in some sense given herself to his care. But not to the care of the family head, not even to the care of a man--his transforming bond with her no doubt severing his bond with men and to male identity--but to the care of an equal who may be as close to her as to a daughter, and whose affection is removed from control and power. Galatians 3:28 reads "there is no male or female," and here in this indeterminate world, removed from public demands and interpretations, this appears possible.
But there's no abstraction in this intersubjectivity. The son is not just nurturing; he does what a mother does in these circumstances. He cooks, he keeps house, he deals with all the details; he grooms and cleans his patient; he carries her on walks, and he reads to her from dusty postcards. In short, he looks to her physical and spiritual needs--in a consoling, innovative, and certain manner.
It is the very liminality of their present circumstance that enlarges their experience, of one another, and of their own specific lives. (The monastic ideal never vanishes). Poverty, isolation, and illness seem to root them in being, in a fruitful solitude, allowing them an inner quiet to reflect and ponder life's design, their anxiety, and the nature of consciousness.
The son's final walk is like a rite of passage. This time he walks, jogs, runs over much of the earlier terrain but now it takes all his courage and honesty because now solo, his course is uncharted. Painful contemplation under ancient tree trunks, gazing out to sea... these seem mother symbols, and spell out a continuity in the discontinuity which is his mother's death. The pilgrim knows through his growing self knowledge that his way will now be hard, but that despair will not take hold. He knows that his dead mother hears his words: "We will meet. Wait for me. Be patient, wait for me."
Le journal d'un suicidé (1973)
The Eves of Alenated Men
The "Diary of a Suicide" is visually riveting, lyrical, its faces compelling. Its worldview is transcendent, non-historical, myth-based world--one of alienation, war, torture, anomie, and disorientation. However despite the dead-end despair, the suffering of all the characters, the males ones-- the tour guide, the actor, the jailer--maintain their freedom to control and dominate. These men never cease serving their own interests. In fact, they uphold their subject status through the presence of the women they objectify.
The three "brave" male souls living without meaning or values are in many ways meshed together as one. They get to tell the story within the other's story within the other's story. They are the speakers, the viewers, the actors, the possessors. Each is grafted to the same universal world view which permits them to survive off an "other," who isn't responsible for the mess of their world. Their stories may be biased and partial, but they stick, and perpetuate more such stories, because whatever power is left in this futile, and nihilistic world, belongs to men.
The ship's tour guide's estrangement, for example, doesn't translate into a passivity around women. He observes, intrudes upon, manipulates, eroticizes, seduces, and mystifies the ship's blond interpreter. He studies her to get to her. He is the knower, she the known, the interest that keeps his manly status intact in the face of his ennui. That she turns out to be disfigured--not a sign of depth as in the one-eyed Einstein--behind her wide sun glasses, offers him one more chance to further his power over her in the form of rejection.
The actor fights off the godless world via a powerful ego which is fed by his wife's Edith Piaf-like performances. His very isolation seems to intensify his self-importance as he relates his stories of death, decay, and destruction. And he seems to have an inscrutable connection to the jailer whose suicide appears to directly touch off the death of his own wife.
The jailer is more oppressed than the other men. He's a victim of a cruel and pointless war which leaves him with permanent brain damage., and an absolute sleep incapacity. He does have a singular memory--that of the face of a loving prostitute. Yet despite this very specific and passionate vision and despite his anguish and own personal oppression, he has no identification or sympathy with his prisoner. She is someone he observes, someone under his control, as he stands there above her composing his own diary.
His suicide itself is as much an act of sadism and murder as it is self-destruction. Since, he makes it a crapshoot as to whom he kills, his terrorized prisoner or himself, it is no wonder, that he kills both himself--and the actor's wife. But the actress' demise does not just replace the lucky anarchist prisoner because now bereft of her 24 hour guard, she will soon be dead herself, and thus be the second death caused by the jailer's suicide.
The guide, the jailer, the actor--and the male anarchist, are indeed inseparable. They are joined by their manipulative power over women. They keenly hear each other, but not women--exploiting their listening capacity as they do their bodies. They are both emotionally detached and socially detached--on a ship, a stage, in a prison. But not detached from each other--they may be worlds apart, and yet share the unity of disembodied subjects under the auspices of traditional male power.
For sure, women are the listeners to and facilitators of men's language. They are framed out of their stories, existing rather as the scenery, the scenes, and the seen. Their bodies exist merely for sex, voyeurism, and display. Their faces for adoration, allure, and sheer beauty (the anarchist must spend most of her prison day on her makeup). The interpreter, gets to be frigid, the anarchist to be twisted, and the actress to be eviscerated and hysterical. In sum, they get to be projected as death, decay, and disintegration in a world made by and for men.
Is the refusal of male touch a crime? a disease? If so, who says so? Who has the right to say so? A sexologist? A psychologist? Both of these "experts" are obsessed with female "frigidity." They see the "frigid" woman as a challenge on the one hand and an interesting specimen on the other. Why? Because they are frightened by the mere thought of independent women.
In Hitchcock's "Marnie", it is a successful businessman, who employs the power and authority of the twin practices. He performs the "science" of the former, and religiously reads the texts of the latter. In other words, he is a gentleman who, as is his custom--with a little boost from sex expert, will have his way with women. What he believes he needs, is what he demands. The more resistant and repulsed the prey, the more thrilling and imperial the predator.
In such a scenario, social reality must be brushed aside so that psychology can prevail. Marnie is not viewed as a victim of sex abuse and rape but rather as suffering from the traumatic memory of a bloody defense of her mother. In fact, all the material conditions of Marnie's upbringing (poverty, neglect) are shunted aside--except as a point of her further vulnerability. That her mother just happens, mind you, to be prostituted, and battered on behalf of and defense of her daughter is thus of no interest to sexology, psychology, Hitchcock, or Mark Rutland, nor is his her iron-willed male resistance or her general state of violation.
The frigid blond daughter is the prize, the star, the sexologist's dream girl. She is the one worth saving--for men, for "science" She has a destiny as a wife, as an object, as a trophy. Her therapy, which includes a honeymoon rape, is crucial to her subordination, and to her reprogramming. Her "inhibitions" must be repressed if she is to learn Correct Sexual Behavior.
What say is Marnie's in all this? None, she is silenced. She is free to be forced. She's no more than Mark's foreplay, an end for his relentless pursuit. It's prison or marriage/sex so she can only surrender to his life. Yet this is a woman who has the guts to pick up a gun and shoot her own injured, very dear horse. She's a woman who has existed for years on her own, living off her own wits and talents. Her language, her mother's language, sometimes reach a fully libratory key, a passionate rage which few viewers can deny, dismiss, or scorn.
But Hitchcock's offers his full weight to Mark Rutland. In mock tribute, he give her the movie's title. For to both men, independent women are an anathema. (Mark is magnified in the final shot, Marnie shrunken)
La femme de Gilles (2004)
True To Form
Gilles' Wife True to Form "Gilles' Wife" has few words, and even less world, but it does have form: it says: the way to oblivion is oblivion.
Elisa's diminishment begins with her name: not only does she surrender her last name in marriage, but she makes no claim to her first. She is Gilles' wife. That's his view, her view, and the town's view. He's known, she's hidden.
He works in a steel mill, she does all the work of the household, which includes raising three children, cleaning floors on hands and knees, wringing out the laundry by hand, shoveling snow, raking leaves, cooking and serving meals, and anticipating Gillies every need. She's the good faithful wife.
This is the role she accepts, the bond she makes. She loves him as herself. For sure, her specific reading of her position is both typical and unusual mainly because Gilles is both utterly predictable and non-stereotypical. Yet her loyalty can be carried to the point of self-annulment as when she spies for him on her own sister (his lover), and more incredibly, when she attends to his batterer's thirst before she does her sister's battered bloodied face.
When Gilles is around, and he's around a lot for a worker, he takes up space in a way somewhere in between a corned-up Wordsworth peasant and a porned-up Tennessee Williams stud. He looms large in his pedestrian household, and much larger in bed where his thrusting, top heavy, sometimes rapacious, and sometimes brute sexuality is assumed. In one of countless bed scenes, he all but rapes his fully pregnant wife, his forced entry occurring in on key with his "no danger" sexologist's advice. There is no "yes" for her because there is no "no" for her. Gillie's oppressiveness is exercised on an intimate level.
His control of his her world is pervasive and effective, his authority godlike. His means include violence, and myriad forms of manipulation which allow him to obscure his power over his wife. He makes the gratuitous provocation of an affair with her younger sister seem natural, normal, and righteous. The sexual possession of both serves as a mechanism to sever the supportive friendship between the sisters.
And when his terrorizing and mania bring his affair to a disastrous end, he appropriates his wife's emotional being, feigning muteness and tears. When he finally resigns himself to the loss of his jeweled possession, he offers no apology or even admission of his assault, demeaning verbal attacks, and death threats toward her, instead 'confessing' only his own 'loss': "I ruined all the happiness I had" for a "good for nothing" woman.
Despite Eliza's strange adoration, and apparent masochism, she is never without doubt as to her husband's true nature. Her inexpressivity is telling, even from the opening bed scene, and her sensed thoughts display more dispassion than enthusiasm. In the dance hall scene, her repressed seething at his open betrayals and her own non-entity status, cannot be ignored--except of course by him. When she loses it in the garden scene, in her new son's presence, we grasp that her tolerance and restraints have limits. The gaps in her faith are tiny but real: she is not always responsive, not always deferent.
At one point she seeks explicit help in the confessional. She pleas: "I don't say a word (to him). If I yell at him (over his affair) he will leave me." To which the priest responds: "refrain from any kind of revolt against the Lord." God's will and her husband's will are one. Her stares at the wounded Christ on the church walls can only point to self-sacrifice. Jesus is for her; and Gillies is her cross.
But the confession is one concrete, public step: add on her husband's phony conversion to fidelity and the unraveling has begun. Her bond to him is weakened too by his having displaced her identity by adopting her emotions. Perhaps her mother's banishment of Gillies from the family home has further bolstered her resolve. Whatever, the crucible of her existence is exerting a relentless pressure.
And she soon recognizes that her life is unavailable to her, that she has been systematically undermined and used by the coercions of bed and home, that she has been cut off from both her sister and her mother, and yes that her husband is no more than a shirt--one that, like his concealed life, she will never launder again. But because he is the norm whose sway exceeds his harem world, she can sight no exit. So stepping carefully into the upstairs window frame, she gradually, as if in unison with the natural world, makes a graceful descent. But even lying on the paved walkway, she is beyond immediate help: "go get Gilles," is what is said by the bystanders.
Dog Days 7 Alpha Dogs "Dog Days" may employ hot humid summer days to express a grim and atomized social reality, but it more effectively, intentionally or not, turns to the microwave heat of male sexuality to express an even grimmer reality of violations and violence. In "Dog Days," DE Sade is not dead.
The question is: what is its director's stance? Is "Dog Days" a rebuke of men's abuse and use of women? Is it an expression of content which may raise a few questions? Or, does it accept, given the hot weather and the heat generated by male sexuality, the normalcy of such raw force?
My take is that Seidl settles for ambiguity. For one, the resistance position is not an option for him, because he can and does use his camera as an accomplice in male sexual abuse. This is most evident in the prolonged sadistic scene involving the teacher and her porn-head boyfriend. Here Seidl chooses pornography over implication, thus aligning himself with the victimizer over the victim. In a sense Seidl is like his character, the salesman, Hrubl, who is disturbed by his role in the rape of the hitch-hiker, but perhaps because his escape hatch is a room filled with porn, cannot muster the will not stop it. But, ironically, this is a scene in which Seidl himself chooses only to indicate rape, proving that he understands how his camera can compound crime.
Seidl also extends too much sympathy to his men, all of whom are guilty of various levels of misogyny. While his female characters are mainly pacified, silent, and one dimensional, the men who sell them out are given more latitude, action, and centrality, which in turn makes them more worthy of consideration. In other words, the victims are bound by duty and love, and locked up in involuntary lives; whereas the men who ooze contempt for them get to display freedom and "human" markings.
This makes for a convenient circularity because it refuses to point to the agent of an exploitative, power-linked sexuality. Seidl cannot judge them, monsters as some of them are, because he himself is drenched in masculine assumptions. One might say that his unflinching view reveals men, but his hard look softens before their acts.
When Lucky, the porn-head's buddy, returns to apologize to the teacher he says "I'm sorry that you had to take sh-t yesterday because of the sins of all women," adding that his participation in her unrelenting degradation was both a pleasure and a valuable experience--and no doubt a pumping up of his male identity. Whether Seidl hears all this as a galling reversal or a wrong-headed apology isn't that clear, but lines such as these make it obvious that Seidl is immersed in the arena of sexual politics.
There are other indications of Seidl's stand throughout the film. As the opening credits roll, the camera espies several sun bathers--all have unnoticeable or shapeless bodies except for two model-like topless young women. He extends this same type of bodily exception to the bar dancer, whose waif-like, sexually-charged figure serves as a kind of exclamation point in a slowly evolving film. Then there is the swing scene that subtly eroticizes the plain hitch-hiker as a kind of foreshadowing of her rape.
In sum, when it comes to sex objectification Seidl seems to follow the lead of his male-ordered culture.. He cannot critique women as male property because of an equivocation which seems to start with his invasive camera (remember the porn-head walks right into the teacher's apt) and ends up affecting his judgment. Give him credit for revealing male sexual aggression, fail him for refusing to connect criminal acts to their male agents. A blurb on the DVD describes "Dog Days" as "strangely entertaining." Which begs the question: FOR WHOM?
Flesh and the Devil (1926)
A Homoerotic Feast
"Flesh and the Devil" presents a world imagined by men. The title stakes out that world. Need anyone ask whose flesh. The male leads may be damn glamorous but no not theirs and certainly not that of that hard baked parson, Mr. Christian himself. No, flesh when affixed to evil, means female and female means sex. Felicitas is a temptress in league with the devil, and the tempted, more fortunate, are in league with the ruling gender.
The homoerotic "relationship" is not an act of befriending. What it is is male affiliation at the expense of, and through the exclusion of, women. It may or may not be sexual in nature, but it is binding. Unlike befriending it does not expand male identity but narrows it, making it more, not less, reliant on force.
In "Flesh and the Devil" we see its naked action. Male passion is based in ownership both in its means and as an end. It is "love" based in fantasy. It assigns to its object, in this case Felicitas, erotic fascination. The husbands and lover eroticize her. Which makes her own passion little more than an act of accommodation to a male world. Her reality then is not much more than being a inflamer of sinful passion. Mainly she submits to this identity, but when she acts on her own behalf, she's viewed as carnal, both in the mind of the parson, and ultimately of the husbands/lover, a grouping which constitutes her social masters.
Leo and Ulrich assert masculine superiority, not friendship, via their blood bonds. Their actions toward Felicitas are their chief means of certifying both their bond and their male identity. The impress they make on Felicitas is secondary to that which they make on each other. And their exceptionalism of class, as impressive as it is, is no match for their exceptionalism of gender. They are upright and masculine, sanctioned to act from their birthright. This is the source of their immemorial attraction to each other.
If Felicitas is deadly and then dead, they are hallowed. If her version of passion is of the body and sinful, theirs is superior and sanctified. If her abject self-repudiation cannot save her life, they can glibly embrace in mystical union.
In other words, Felicitas is the ground of their unity. She must be sacrificed to resolve the tension and incipient violence between her two "lovers." She will lose no more husbands in duals, even if she alone must absorb the cost of male cruelty and vengeance. For this is a male world with a male outcome. Mythic masculinity is achieved while she is drowning in ice.
La mariée était en noir (1968)
"The Bride Wore Black" is a cogent, strongly conceived, and executed film. Truffaut makes us see what he sees--in detail. The cast of characters is invariably attuned as in Jeanne Moreau's protagonist and Charles Denner's Fergus, and never stereotyped, down to Bliss's doorman, the niece, and the pacing prison guard pried on in the finale. There's some humor above the undercurrents in the early going but there's no exit from Julie Kohler's wrenching and redemptive journey. This in a sense is "The Story of Adele H" in reverse with the impulse to justice moving outward, not inward.
For simply put--and the film is simply put, here the violated makes the violators pay. Julie Kohler must echo the indifference of the five-man clique, (all hunters and womanizers) who carelessly murdered her bridegroom, with a retaliatory plan. For these men live life with impunity; they are free to pursue their professions, free to prey on women, and free to be free--of memory and guilt.
Julie's retribution begins when her suicide attempts are foiled by her mother. But a patched-up life is not on the table: she tells her confessor that as a dead woman, she can only "do what must be done." The means to which are as obvious as the criminals themselves--she will kill as they kill, and she will impersonate female to enter their sexist lives. For retribution is the last thing each expects, and female worship the first thing each expects.
Bliss is living the life of a playboy. To him females are fluff, and more or less whores. He records for his pals the sound of his fiancé's rubbing stockings as she crosses her legs. He is fascinated by Kohler: "my fiancé is lovely, but...." She is an "apparition"--one that easily leads him to his "accidental" death on a balcony.
Mr. Coral "takes refuge in dreams" exclusively of females. He's so perfect a dupe of Kohler's arranged drama that he can even pass off a remark practically announcing it. Preparing for their bachelor room rendezvous, he hides nude paintings and during it furtively peeks at Kohler's legs. While imbibing his poisoned drink and sensing its soporific effects he coos: "you are as magic," "you made me drink a love potion" and confides that he's "only had" a few women in his life. But it's too late for Kohler's wisdom: "lovers are made and not born." For none of his pleas as to innocence in "love" or murder impact Kohler.
"I may not look like Don Juan but politicians make it good with women" says Morane, whose furtive sexual glances and dismissal of his "perfect wife" are slid back a bit in comparison to the first targets--but whose memory is equally occluded. For momentarily, like a child, he finds himself locked up in his own closet, a victim of Kohler's ruse. "For you it's in the past, but I have to live through it every night" she says, as she seals his fate with masking tape.
Fergus, the commercial designer, is both the most challenging mark, and the quintessential dupe. Besides exuding the artist confidence around women, he's the consummate "skirt-chaser," and the master female connoisseur. And such a glib promoter of these feats... talk, talk... as to rattle even his steely new model. But his memory of Kohler is so maximally muddled that he invites her to model in the role of Diana the Huntress--live arrows and all, and proceeds to let himself fall in love with his scantily-dressed model. This, of course, has two obvious effects: he falls in love (is rejected, and out of anger and fantasy paints Kohler in the nude on his wall as he straddles his bed for support) and soon thereafter is murdered, an arrow to the back.
Kohler, her nude image left unblackened, thus sets up her final coup against the imprisoned Delvaux. As to Corey, Fergus' sporting pal and finger-man in Kohler's arrest.... the detective spotlights him when inquiring whether her list of villains is now closed. She replies: "Yes. He's the sort of man who can't keep his hands off women, but I would not kill him." Which means that Corey is worthy of some list, but not her specific one which, of course, has led her to prison in any case. But her statement also implies her revenge is by no means simply revenge. It belongs to the social web the film represents. There is a unifying spirit behind her, which starts with opposition to the hunter/womanizer dyad and extends to male violence in general. Her primary revenge is for the unseen, starting with herself, and extending to all women, and only ending with her groom. She never injures another female in her quest--to the point of risking her plan to save Miss Becker, and she appears to subtly perceive the plight of the women belonging to the misogynists' lives she tracks.
Kohler is not a femme fatale in any sense of the word. There is no myth, no magic, no nether region of the psyche here. She does what has to be done because she has lost her world and the perpetrators must pay. But at each turn, she must continue to dodge bullets other than the one aimed at her in Delvaux's cross-hair as she descended the church's steps. She must continually accommodate herself to sexualizing projectiles, which is akin to a form of hazing--and a further loss of life. That this erotizicing makes these men complicit in their own specific deaths, does not fill the loss. However, being projected as nothing but an image, does broaden, deepen, and strengthen her motivation.
So, the film asks: who murders? who obsesses? who controls? And the answers lie in the very male scheme of things which Kohler is called upon to undo. It's only unfortunate that the cost of the undoing is in the doing which must bring a life sentence.
La captive (2000)
Ariane as Fetish
Akerman's "La Captive" sticks in the memory. I think it must be its meditative force, and its very concrete means of expressing some truths about men and women.
The title most assuredly gets delivered--in every scene, in every word, in every image. Ariane is viewed, desired, captured. Simon first possesses her as an image in a private video of a group of lesbians enjoying themselves on a beach. He then, like a detective or spy, puts his "love" object under direct surveillance, and takes her into his luxurious apt establishing her as he would say his comfortable tub, or his bed, to satisfy his longings.
Thus it is that Ariane, simply be being female, arouses in Simon sex or sexual erection, predation, and bondage. But she is no prisoner of place--no, she is rather a prisoner on a leash. She is free to leave the periphery, free to be watched, stalked, inquisited, pounced upon , and retracted to service as a sexual prop and pliant companion.
Her lesbian circle, her social life remain open to her because they spark Simon's objectifying sexuality. He needs the danger of her rejection to challenge and thus intensify his control over her. He needs to know his charmer, from inside out. Is lesbian love superior to his love? Does Ariane secretly scorn him? He needs to know her deepest secrets, in order to win her total dependency. For it is not her body, her budding innocence, her slimly fashionable doll-like persona, nor even her seductive sleep that is his primary interest, but rather her literal self. This is the only booty that will satisfy his quest for male identity.
Ariane in short is no more than a fetish. She's been deprived of her vivid community, her lesbianism, and her emotional landscape. She cannot be herself because she has shrunk in captivity, and because she has become accustomed to captivity. That's what he's done to her, because it is her thoughts and her feelings that he needs to own.
But ironically, he needs to know all about someone who knows nothing worth knowing. It has all gone from her as in amnesia. Full submission means going blank, so Ariane cannot answer any of Simon's prying questions. To respond to Simon's "love" she has had to become a thing--but not completely. She has saved some of herself for herself.
And in the end, her self-containment cracks. Ariane's single passionate moment returns her to the sea, to the scene of her capture, and far more importantly to the actual place of her pre-captive life--and to her strong swimming , and to the physical strength to resist further imprisonment.