I’m gaining an ever-growing irritation with exploitation of sex covered by the mask of "art films" that's been going on in French cinema for some time now.
"foreign film" or "art film" was, in
Today, however, sex has become a matter of trend, not only in
Let me put it this way: There is one Serbian distribution house that distributes no more than one film a year. Each time, it is some sex-pumped, so-called artistic and psychological film that attempts to examine people's sexuality, but examines only how far the actors are ready to go just to appear in a film. One year, they imported Catherine breillat's "Romance", a film that shocked people by realistic quasi-pornographic content (quasi because, by testifying, actors did not have intercourse on set although you can't say that from the film); next year it was "Baise-moi” directed mostly by a porn actress Coralie, that added gore to a sadistic sex. In praying mantis setup, Coralie seemed to want to avenge to every man who humiliated her during porn actress career. Third year, it was "Irreversible", film advertised as Monica Belucci on display, doing things with her real life husband Vincent Cassel, that she wouldn't do with any other actor. However, a lot of viewers were put off by a brutal rape scene at the Beginning and left the cinema. Those who didn’t eventually got to what was advertised.
In all these cases, advertising campaign that followed films was indecisive between advertising it as sex flick or as art flick; this is, however, intentional strategy, trying to draw both audiences, bombastically using word "SHOCKING!!!" This, of course, has little do to with art, with insightful outlook at intimacy, with psychology - people mostly went to see those films hoping to see Monica Belucci at work, perhaps more artistically crafted eroticism than regular, crude porn does. Through the set of circumstances, they weren't rewarded in any of these cases: "Baise-moi" was too gory, "Irreversible" too brutal to enjoy on that level; and "Romance" was simply so clumsily directed that there was no hint of sensuality in it. They would've made it much better if they bought Jean-Jacque Beneix's "Betty blue", all in all an empty shell of a film, but where sex is enjoyable, not frustrating. But to be honest, there are respectful directors of mostly erotic films, like Valerian Borowtzik or Tinto Brass, who would make much better target - but hey, what respectful distributor would admit that they're living of distributing erotic cinema, even if they did.
It's not a coincidence that the flood of erotic thrillers in mid nineties in
Now when I mentioned Bernardo Bertolucci who, after a career filled with historical epics ("Noveccento", "The last emperor", "Little Buda") returned to his youthful fashion of "intimacy exploitation", there's a trend where films will most often talk about sexuality of teenagers, indulging actors who are practically minors in scenes that they might regret later; such are Bertolucci's "Stolen beauty" or later "Dreamers" and call me unfair, but there's something deeply disturbing about a 70 years old geezer always shooting films about how 16 year old kids gain their first sexual experiences. In addition to that trend, there is Greg Araki who somehow mistook gruesome for aesthetic and disturbing for socially conscious, then somewhat more respectable Alphonso Cuaron with his summer hit "Y tu mama tambien" about two teenage guys having an affair with marginally older woman, and of course, the uncrowned king of children exploitation, "ken park", film that fails to be sensual, deep, funny, or good in any way: it even fails to be a cult film, such as some earlier merciless exploitations did ("Caligula"); it grants it's intrigue to the fact that it exploits teenagers to border line and to that some of his actors leave an impression of mentally challenged kids who aren't fully responsible for themselves, which is where we have to seriously ponder the director's ethics.
All these people forget (or maybe ignore) a few simple facts: graphic sex is distracting: most of audience won't even know what the film was about; real, creative shock isn't in means involved, it's in subject matter; shock effect or hard core sex or mainstream cinema screen has an effect of novelty, it wears out and once the more shocking things come, these films will be forgotten; and finally: where's the limit? Is soon a dick length going to be a prerequisite for a professional actor? Will the actress who doesn't want to indulge in public sex with a film partner going to be considered unprofessional?
It is then no surprise that one of the best films about intimacy and sexual life is a very decent film whose most explicit moment is some cybersex displayed on computer screen? Add one obscured striptease and that's all this film has to offer. Is it also a surprise that this film comes from one of the o masters of cinema?
Mike Nichols is that master. That his output is highly uneven, doesn't matter, as long as he has classics like "The Graduate" or "Carnal knowledge" in his repertoire - in addition to a lot of intriguing films like "The wolf", "Day of the dolphins", "Silkwood", but also several surprisingly bad judgments like "What planet are you from?” However, it turns out that Nichols is, most of all, reliable director of theatrically stylized stories; provided a good script that already contains strong narrative and character lines, he will grant is competent, seemingly literal direction, but with good actor guidance and subtlety such is hard to find. For example, his covers of theatrical plays are successful conversions of theatrical self-aware tone to more true-to-life film language; even though he never wants to make those stories more dynamic than they were on stage (which you'd expect from a film), closing up on characters - which is what film does - require their emotions to be more subtly on display, with mimics and shades of the voice more than with the strength of the same voice or with actor's presence and charisma, more introvert than it was on stage. Nichols is good at that: making characters sound, well, like people, so his most reliable quality is probably actor guidance (I’m recalling of Melanie Griffith in "Working girl"), although occasionally he has shown such rich direction with wall-to-wall ideas - most notably in "The Graduate" - that one feels bad for his more ambitious yet failed projects like "catch 22".
But given all that, it is no surprise that his current career is currently rounded up by two filmed theatrical plays: his first feature "Who's afraid of Virginia Wolf", by the classic Edvard Olby's play with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as the couple that represses their tragic memories with emotional violence, and second one, "Closer", by of Patrick Marber's play that repeats, many years later, the similar cast setup (two troubled couples) but not much else.
As I said, "Closer" goes perhaps deeper into human intimacy than any other recent film without ever resorting to graphic sex. There was a funny gossip that Nichols shot some scenes with Natalie Portman nude, but later decided not to use them in the film, to disappointment of many fans of this actress known for insistently refusing to take roles containing nudity. Portman is here as good as typecast. Julia Roberts, on the other hand, a very incompetent actress for any performance that requires more nuances than average romantic comedy, stumbles her way through her role that requires her to be calm and detached, which is probably the only manner she's good at. Then there is Jude Law, trendy young Hollywood pretty man, but competent actor the least; but the show is stolen by Clive Owen, who manages to be both innocently goofy and tragic at the same time; provided with a few scenes of near comedy, he steals every scene he appears in and in some more emotionally charged scenes, Julia Roberts barely catches up with him.
"Closer" is basically a story about modern relationships, about their nature that is not only carelessly promiscuous, but ruthless in a way that people use all means, from carefully cherished act to emotional blackmail, to keep the one they want to themselves; at which point we question whether they really love, since they never, ever set free.
Alice (Portman), young and, though a stripper, still keeps shreds of naivety that allow her to honestly love. She has nothing to offer but herself (which, given her unleashed sexuality and childishly good character, is not a little. Ironically but unexpectedly, two men of the story are fighting over the other girl, Anna (Roberts), who maintains aura of cold character and repressed sexuality, thus inaccessibility, around herself. Then, isn't she woman of mystery, while Alice, easily won, can be easily rejected, which is why two men (ab)use her in this film, either as a mean to get closer to Anna, a comfort, or a trophy to gloat over the other man (and hurt his ego, yes). Dan (Law) has for as main weapons oppressive patience and persistence, extrovert nature, inflated ego and self-assurance at the point where he thinks everything is allowed - and yes, he's not a very sympathetic character. His methods are so successful that he forces the opponent, Larry, to play dirty and win Anna back with guilt. Larry Is initially a shy, honest character, the kind of guy that believes a person he just met on chat when she says she's a hot girl, but one can ask himself, can he really Be forced to fight dirty for the one he loves, or is it something that lies beneath the surface? And can we really say that it's real love we're talking about? Because, I guess, love is about giving and forgiving, not about stealing and snatching from someone's hands. Because, in last encounter of Larry and Dan, where Dan suggests that you can't build an entire relationship on guilt, Larry explains that it's entirely possible: did humanity reach that level of selfishness where you'll deprive the one you love of happiness that way? I guess the real show of what humanity is like, is not what some guy will do in the film, but how many people in audience will find that normal and justified.
This is a rare moment of cinema when a good guy does wrong, looks at himself and realizes that he doesn't regret it a bit. After suggesting to Dan to return to
And indeed, there is no doubt that Dan will make that fatal step and question his happily re-found love with
The silent, grim ending sequence lets us believe that there is no emotion left on the scene, that the hearts grew cold to the point where they're happy in a world with no emotions because they wouldn't know how to enjoy in them anyway.