Saturday, 23 July 2011

Wroclaw New Horizons Film Festival Notes #1

As a statement of intent, choosing Asghar Farhadi's A Separation and Nuri Bilge Celan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as its twin opening night films, Wroclaw’s New Horizons film festival (formally known as Era after its late sponsor) made clear its commitment to cinematic sobriety. Farhadi's he-said she-said tale of domestic strife, weighed against Ceylan’s grim police procedural; and Farhadi's claustrophobic domestic and public spaces was happily countered by Ceylan’s almost agoraphobic look at the Turkish countryside at dawn. In Once Upon a Time... four characters trawl secluded spots in search of a body: the police chief, a distinguished prosecutor (whose resemblance to Clark Gable does not unnoted), a young divorced doctor and the supposed murderer himself. They drive by night, winding around the hilly landscape of the western, Asian tip of Turkey, bickering amongst themselves until the body is eventually found, hogtied, and the deconstruction of the crime can begin.

Whilst reminiscent at times of Kiarostami (in the long shots of the convoy making its way through the landscape and a momentous shot of an apple rolling down a hill) and the bleak, deterministic comedies coming out of Romania (The Death of Mr Laserescu, Police, Adjective), this is very clearly a Ceylan film, with this favoured theme of romantic guilt again at the fore. For me, it’s his best since Usak.

In one of the many sidebars, Jasper Sharp presents a selection of Japanese Pink films to illustrate his book (published in translation for the festival). With a more wide ranging and contemporary scope than the Wild Japan season he took to the BFI a couple of years ago, this series takes us up to the present day. Blue Film Woman, an early classic of the genre, presents a pretty typical indecent proposal narrative: a downtrodden stock broker forced to sell his wife to his sleazy debtor, an act that leads to her sudden death and his incapacity. It’s left up to his teenage daughter to pay off the debt, which she goes about in an all too predictable way. For a film that plays patriarchal rape for laughs, there is a surprising amount of subtlety to be found within, such as the scenes of the daughter greeting her clients with the same hellos, light music, slow dance, and then... From 1999, No Love Juice: Rustling in the Bed seems far less political in intent, and, whilst evidently more explicit than its predecessors, comes close to being understated. A 28 year old business woman fears being left on the shelf after being dumped by her partner of 6 years. Old before her time, she gets an erotic recharge in the form of a twenty year old art students she meets on the last train home. It’s too late to eat, and too cold to be alone, she reasons, to they stay together. The pair plunge into a sweaty affair, talk earnestly about life and so on.You could almost call it Rohmeresque (but with analingus).

Also seen: Tender Son: Frankenstein Project has been around for a while but I finally caught up with it here. It starts interestingly enough, with a director fresh from a theatrical production of The Count of Monte Christo embarking on auditions for a new (unnamed) film. After one audition goes horribly wrong, the film settles into a less opportune pattern of mounting deaths in the cold Hungarian landscape. You Are Here, the feature debut of artist Danial Cockburn plays in the International Competition: it’s a slightly too pleased with itself metaphysical puzzle film (is there any other kind?) enlivened by the odd decent joke. And Volcano, in which a mopey ex-fisherman finds that life might be worth living after all..

...more to follow (laptop battery pending)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Notes on Fassbinder's Jail Bait (1973)

Wildwechsel (Jail bait AKA Wild Game) is the only Fassbinder film I can think of that focuses on youth; a look at the time before his fated characters’ faces have become puffy with booze and pills, and before the string of heartbreaks have left them condemned to cycles of destruction. It opens, however, not on the teenage couple that become its centre, but on the girl’s parents. It’s early in the morning and father wants them to go back to bed. Mother looks herself over in the mirror, counting the wrinkles. “Chubby women like me stay younger longer” she rationalises, but her mind is more on the lottery numbers…

Their daughter, Hannie, is still in bed. She is 14, but has the body of someone years older. As the film progresses she will become involved with Franz, a slaughterhouse worker 5 years her senior, who first will be jailed for statutory rape, and later get her pregnant. Hannie and Franz’s relationship is like an embryo of some other, more famous, Fassbinder romances: psychical, sado-masochistic, dependant and doomed.

Eva Mattes, who had played Petra von Kant’s spurned daughter a couple of years earlier, gets her generational revenge here. A calculated cruelty hides behind her puppy-fat exterior, as she manipulates her lover into patricide by proxy. Fassbinder’s take on youth is complex and cynical. This isn’t a story of innocence lost or stolen, but of an inevitable decline. The loss of virginity is no big deal. "It had to happen, and now it happened. It doesn't matter." Hannie is one of Fassbinder’s typically compromised victims; perhaps the gulf in morals between this generation and the last isn't as vast as we would like. Her father pines for the years of National Socialism, but resents them for taking his youth. “We weren’t young, we were soldiers.”

Like always, the characters are trapped, forever standing in doorways they fail to exit, or pinned by down symbolic mise en scene (replacement prison-bars are everywhere, except in the scenes of Franz in custody, where he seems strangely free.) 

The film is little seen today, perhaps because of the still troubling subject matter (Breillat would mine similar territory with 36 Fillette and À ma sœur!, yet Fassbinder’s film remains uncomfortable viewing); but more likely because of legal issues surrounding the film (Franz Xaver Kroetz, author of play on which it was based, branded the film version pornographic and has had some success in getting the film suppressed.) It is as yet unavailable on DVD, but the far from pristine bootleg (see screengrabs) is still well worth a look. 

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Moi, un chav (notes on Transfiction, The Only Way is Essex and Fade Street)

Among the well meaning documentaries at the recent London Sex Workers Film Festival (yeah, really), was Transfiction, an hour long video from 2007 by academic Johannes Sjöberg. Taking his cue directly from Jean Rouch, Sjöberg’s work was an explicit experiment in ‘ethno-fiction’ - a blend of ethnography and filmic storytelling - perhaps the most famous example of which being Rouch’s Moi, un Noir (1958). In that film the filmmaker directed his participants to act out fictionalised versions of their own lives. In his opening voice over Rouch explains his encounter with these young immigrants from Niger, now living in Treichville, Ivory Coast.

I proposed to make a movie about them in which they would play their own roles, in which they would be able to say and do everything.  This is how we improvised this film.  One of them, Eddie Constantine, was so faithful to his character, US federal agent Lemmie Caution, that he was sentenced to three months in prison while we were still shooting the film.  For another, Edward G. Robinson, the film became a mirror in which he discovered who he was, the army veteran of Indochina, chased way by his father because he had lost the war.  He is the hero of the film.

Rouch’s hybrid form possibly finds its ideal subject in the participants of Sjöberg’s work. The two central figures are Fabia, playing a transsexual hairdresser, and Bibi, a transgendered sex worker, both working in Sao Paulo. By inviting these marginal figures to explore their own lives in a fictional context, Sjöberg can at once examine the abject social situation of the sex worker population, and the fantasy worlds of such hetrogeneous figures.

The subjects in Moi un Noir and Transfiction exist at the fringes. By fictionalising their own lives, Rouch and Sjöberg allow their subjects a psychological freedom that a traditional documentary would not allow. This reflexive approach lets its subject re-address past experiences through improvisation. The aim is to convey reality through fiction, and to produce collaborative representations of groups normally hidden from our screens.

Such a playfully-rigorous ethnographic approach finds a popular expression in contemporary television, in the equally maligned and celebrated genre of staged-reality shows (beginning, perhaps, with the US series The Hills), of which ITV2’s The Only Way is Essex is a notable example.

Many have placed Essex’s success (including beating such middlebrow opposition as Downtown Abby to an audience award BAFTA) down to its camp celebration of celebrity obsessed culture, in which the participants (mostly rejects from other, less-reflexive, ‘reality’ shows like Big Brother) enact their fantasy of living their lives in the limelight (or the pages of Heat magazine). The programme is often seen as a figurehead of all that is wrong with the once great state of British television, and its pandering to the tastes of the fake-tanned and vajazzled, to the detriment of serious drama. As the Guardian put it it’s  the programme people sneer about at dinner parties without having seen it”.

Whilst in terms of production value alone, Essex is a world away from Rouch, its implied political intent is perhaps not all that dissimilar. The ‘characters’ in Essex are marginalised inasmuch as they are ‘rejects’: both literally (from other ‘reality’ representations) and in terms of their class-background. The ‘chav’ culture from which they (mostly proudly) hail cannot be said to be lacking representation in popular culture, but at least Essex allows the participants some say in the outcome (although exactly how much is difficult to say.)

Another interesting example of the staged-reality genre is RTE’s Fade Street, which dramatises the ‘real’ lives of Dublin’s monied elite and the low drama world of glamour publishing and events management. What makes Fade Street so strangely watchable, (and possibly of ethnographic worth) is the ever so dim realisation in eyes of the participants that they are part of a dying culture. The background of the Celtic tiger’s humbling crash infects Fade St. almost via osmosis. There is something quite compelling about watching characters bravely attempting to block out the economic gloom that surrounds them. And whilst these figures (with names like Vogue and Cici) could hardly be called marginal, there precarious existence perhaps (perhaps) aligns them with the heroes of Rouch’s fictions.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Sad Mums (Notes on Nenette and Mildred Pierce)

In Nicolas Philibert’s recent formalist nature doc, Nenette, we watch a 40 year old female orangutan slump in the limited but roomy confines the monkey house at Paris’ Jardin des Plantes Exotiques Zoo. The camera gazes at her, and sometimes at her cell mate, in a series of mostly statics close and mid shots. Off screen we hear the voices of visitors and keepers: joking, questioning, ruminating, or perhaps just projecting their own hang-ups onto Nenette’s all-too-human condition.  Is she depressed? Lonely? Content to live out her days eating the occasional yogurt and watching the world go by? Occasionally we see her audience reflected in the perspex, but the voices are never identified.

Like the subject of Phillipe Parreno and Douglas Gordon’s somewhat similar Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, Nenette is perhaps a little past her prime, but still a ‘Galactico’ of sorts in her own arena. (Or maybe even like Lola Montes, wheeled in to face a curious crowd eager to glimpse the wanton history etched into her face.)

The off screen commentators discuss her dietary habits, sexual history, digestion, but Nenette remains placid: as poker-faced as Zidane or Warhol’s Empire State Building. (Interestingly, the original conception behind Empire involved various unseen voices, including Jonas Mekas and Gerald Malanga, but the finished film was kept silent.)

Nenette is confined with her eldest child, Tubo, having been ‘retired’ from her reproductive function some years earlier. She has worked her way three ‘husbands’ we’re told, the latter two shipped in from across the continent. Now, rather humiliatingly, she is fed a birth control pill (laced into her yogurt) to prevent any incestuous offspring.

Her condition, a single mother at 40, imprisoned with her kin and looked upon with affectionate pity, reminded me a little of Mildred Pierce, Todd Haynes’ brilliant 5 part drama for HBO (I must admit that proximity of viewing is likely the chief reason behind the comparison). Over a leisurely 5 plus hours we see Mildred stoically struggle with her own abject position (a divorced woman in 1930s America), tried by a resentful daughter, but occasionally relieved by second-wind sexuality.

Mildred’s trajectory from housewife to waitress to business celebrity and finally to bit-part support to her celebrated offspring, is perhaps similar to that of Nenette’s. We hear about her period in the limelight - as star attraction - before being pushed aside for her more camera friendly infants. It seems this might be a particularly maternal condition. In his book Miracles of Life, J.G Ballad observes similar:

“As a father who collected his children from school, I spent a great deal of time by the school gates and soon recognised the fierce maternal tension that made adolescence a hell for many of my daughters’ friends. Some mothers simply could not cope with the growing evidence that their daughters were younger, more womanly and more sexually attractive than they were.”

Philibert himself compares Nenette to another tragic heroine, Emma Bovary, who's own frustrations in love and parenthood made her an ideal site for the readers own projections: “Just as Flaubert declared, 'I am Madame Bovary!', so I could say, 'I am Nenette'. She is you. She is us.”

As one of the commentators half-seriously suggests, Nenette is a “kept woman”. In Haynes’ drama, the lead character can fight against this, but we see the effects as ultimately dangerous and sadly futile. Nenette may look pretty docile behind that barrier, but take away the perspex and you might see a very different character.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

A Slut with Mutant Lungs (further notes on Burlesque)

In an essay in the current issue of Film Comment (not available online) David Thomson discusses the Imperfect Union of face and voice in the Hollywood film. As a jump off point Thomson uses an interview with dancer Del Burnett in which he mentions working with Marilyn Monroe: “They always used her own voice. She had a very unique quality. I loved her voice, it went with her.” Thomson further rhapsodises about Monroe’s “little-girl breathiness...the imprint of her endangered innocence struggling with the factory system, the cruelty of men, and the implacability of scripts when she wanted to be spontaneous”, but notes that research suggests Marni Nixon would probably have provided some of the tougher notes for Marilyn... “even on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”.

In Burlesque, novice ingénue Ali makes a radical proposition: rather than having the provocatively dressed girls lip sync to numbers, why don’t they sing? The plan is anathema to more conservative minded Nikki :“Who comes to the club to hear people sing?” she reasonably asks, before casting Ali as a “slut with mutant lungs”. (And being a slut is certainly not something we could easily accuse Ali of.)

The number the film uses to demonstrate this shift from pre-recording to actuality is, appropriately enough, Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.

So who’s right: Nikki or Ali? Is the voice important in this sphere of entertainment? In Showgirls Verhoeven goes so far as to minimise the musical track to make us more aware of the scuffing, shuffling feet on the stage. The mechanically sexual movements are key; the body not the voice. In Exotica, Atom Egoyan makes ironic use of a world weary Leonard Cohen to score the dance moves of his ‘schoolgirl’ stripper.

But it is a voice we associate with Monroe’s pink glove or Dietrich’s suspenders in The Blue Angel. In Burlesque it is Ali’s ability to sing that leads her to unseat Nikki as the establishment’s main attraction. Here the voice is given precedence over the body, and mutant lungs supplant Nikki’s more visceral charms.

This, of course, is all well and good. The only problem is Aguilera’s voice. It certainly is distinctive (although one could hardly call it breathy), but the more her voice takes charge the more the eroticism of the dance is sidelined. By the end of the film she is appearing in full gown, statically belting out forgettable songs to an audience who should be commended for not bottling her.

In Roland Barthes terminology, Aguilera is certainly more pheno-voice than geno-voice. The former is all about communication, expression; the latter more ineffable: a voluptuousness that addresses the listener indirectly. With the pheno-voice there may be plenty of passion but “nothing seduces, nothing sways us to jouissance.” For Barthes the point is where the voice comes from: the throat or the lungs. “The lung, a stupid organ (lights for cats!), swells but gets no erection; it is in the throat, place where the phonic metal hardens and is segmented in the mask that significance explodes. Bringing not the soul but jouissance.”

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Gender uncertainty and air space castration (Notes on Burlesque)

*** Warning: The following gives away sections of the film's ending. But to be honest, if you're watching Burlesque for narrative ingenuity you're likely to come away disappointed ***

The rather safe notion that burlesque dancing is sexy without being sexual is largely borne out in the intermittently entertaining Cher/Christina Aguilera diva musical, Burlesque. What is most interesting about the film is its almost complete denial of straight male libido. The film pushes the idea of women controlling their own sexuality to literal conclusions, to the point at which it hardly becomes sexual at all. The Burlesque Lounge that provides most of the film with its setting is notable for being an almost exclusively straight female/gay male area, where any whiff of male-female desire is summarily expunged. This isn’t a Strip Club, as the camp-as-Christmas doorman (Alan Cummings, who else?) makes clear; “The only Pole you’ll find in here is Natasha the shot girl.”

The will they/won’t they heterosexual coupling that provides the film its (limited) narrative interest is between Ali (Aguilera) and Jack (Cam Gigandet). Ali abandons her clearly delineated ‘dead-end’ life (Iowa, waitressing job, dead mother) for a new beginning in L.A. First port of call is Tess’ (Cher) sunset strip nightclub, where Jack, the bowler hat and eyeliner wearing barman, stands her a drink. Ali watches the dancers from the bar “Who does a girl have to flirt with to get from here to up there?” she asks. “Is this you flirting?” responds Jack. “With someone wearing more eyeliner then me..?"

From the first instance Jack’s gender identity is all over the shop. He and Ali form a bond and she accepts an invitation to crash at his place. It is only later, with the mention of a fiancée, that Ali realises Jack’s true predilections (although some doubt remains). As the film continues, Jack’s heterosexuality starts to reassert itself (a regressive flipside to the more exciting gender reversals in the Hawksian comedy) but the effect is to make him almost sex-neutral. The eventual love scene between the pair is played almost exclusively for laughs (and the shot of Jack’s rather sporting buttocks is the closest the film comes to prurience).

Whilst Jack’s heterosexuality is essentially neutered by his feminised appearance, the aberrant desires of the film’s other significant straight male, Marcus, are dealt with in more metaphorically  aggressive fashion. Marcus is a property developer with his sights set on both Ali (whom he attempts to procure with a pair of jewel encrusted shoes) and the Burlesque Lounge (which is more a matter for hard cash). At the films conclusion we learn that his deal for the club is motivated by a wish to build a towering condo block with the best view of sunset strip. Outside, L.A is littered with phalluses: Ali’s introduction to the city is illustrated by her glaring up at the numerous intimidating structures; inside it’s a different story (remember: No Poles*). When Ali learns that Marcus’ intention is to destroy the feminine lounge to erect a monument to manhood, she schemes to scupper his plans (and in so doing rejects his dangerous masculinity for the more dispassionate charms of Jack). Through some rather complicated dealings about construction rights and the purchasing of air space, Marcus is finally (and invisibly) castrated, and the club can continue.

But whilst the film can be seen as progressive for its reclamation of erotic dance from the grubby palms of the heterosexual male, this denial ultimately leads to sexless frustration. Amongst the dancers themselves any hint of liberated sexuality is scorned. The insult of choice here is “slut”, one mostly reserved for booze-prone Nikki, the former headline act who, it is inferred, had no qualms about opening her legs to get where she wanted. (Choice line from Cher to her ex-protégé: “I’ve held back your hair whilst you vomited everything up... except your memories.”) It’s no surprise then that the one real moment of unity among the girls comes when one of them gets married. Writer/director Steve Antin’s (who, a quick IMBD search tells me, played one of the rapists in The Accused) attempt to show Burlesque as a safe form of sexy results in a film unlikely to get a rise from anyone. It’s Showgirls for tweenies.

* A statement somewhat problematised when later on Ali dances with erm..a pole. 

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Boys in the Shower (Weird Science and Elephant)

It was Hitchcock, of course, who first identified the shower as a perversely contradictory site of security and vulnerability. The slasher film, in nod to the master, has made homage almost mandatory, and turned the location into one as iconographic as the saloon in the western. (A reasonably thorough look at shower scenes in the films of Brian De Palma is here.)

The other genre to buy wholesale into the shower scene has been the teen movie. In these films (and I’m thinking of John Hughes defined 80s period and beyond) the shower can be a site of both stimulation and dread; the twin poles represented by Porky’s and Carrie respectively. Plenty of savvy filmmakers have productively tapped into the crippling body neurosis that tends to mark our adolescent years by exploiting the fear of communal showing, but it is interesting to note how often initial sexual experiences (fantasised or otherwise) seem to take place in this unsanctified space.

In the opening scene of Hughes’ Weird Science, the two geeks, Gary and Wyatt, watch a female gymnastics class from the sidelines. “Do you know what I’d like to do?” asks Gary, almost rhetorically. “Shower with them” Wyatt responds breathlessly, letting the word roll about in his mouth and mix with his saliva. True to their word, when the two boys create their ideal submissive woman it is the first thing they make her do. The iconic scene of Kelly leBrock lathering her naked body as the boys look on ends with a visual punch line. As their creation exits we see the boys in their sodden pants and trainers, the inspective gaze of their computer generated offspring being too much to bear.

As the film continues so does the linking of showers and sex. Gary and Wyatt hole themselves up in the bathroom as a house party rages downstairs. When their twin desired objects, Deb and Hilly, enter the room, the boys again find refuge in their favourite spot. Later, when Deb and Hilly bump into Lisa she offers the less mature girls some advice: “If you get the chance... shower with them. I did. It’s a mindscrambler...ohhhh...hurts so good.”

In the teenage imagination, the shower is the first port of call for libidinal imaginings. The scenes of Gary and Wyatt in the shower together find an echo in Gus Van Sant’s far darker examination of adolescent frustration, Elephant. Here hormonal urges reach expression in a high school massacre, but not before Van Sant’s two outsiders, Alex and Eric, have had their own shower scene. Van Sant seems to prick at liberal consciousness by having his two killers kiss. The scene is knowingly and frustratingly ambiguous. Perhaps we should see the shower as the only space where the two feel safe enough to express homosexual feelings, or perhaps we should view the kiss merely as the only possible outlet for any physical connection, homosexual or otherwise: “I’ve never kissed anyone before. Have you?” asks Eric.

Whilst in Hughes’ film the shower is a site for lust and voyeurism, Van Sant sees it a place for sad, sexless sexuality. In his later film Paranoid Park, the young skateboarder guilty of a gruesome accidental killing finds the shower as the only place the vent his deep sense of remorse.

The scene ends with the boy (another Alex) slowly sinking to the floor much like Janet Leigh in Hitchcock’s infamous scene (and Anne Heche in Van Sant’s own remake). She had paid the ultimate price for her transgression, but Alex can only wish for death.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Alan Rudolph and Moral Relativity (Notes on Equinox and Mortal Thoughts)

Habitually situated somewhere between farce and melodrama, Alan Rudolph’s eccentric comedies often take aim at sexual politics in a manner that can be provocative and unsettling. In the occasionally successful Equinox (available in its entirety on You Tube), Mathew Modine plays separated at birth twins Freddie and Henry: ambitious gangster and everyman mechanic, whose paths eventually cross in duly dramatic fashion. The film is puzzling even by Rudolph’s standards: full of blind alleys, non-sequiturs and other such dot dot dots. But the final picture that emerges is surprisingly troubling for what it does say, rather than for what it doesn’t.

The capital-T Theme (as signalled by the title) is the balance between light and dark, good and bad; the nice and the nasty. The film’s primary achievement however is in signalling each twins own personal moral equilibrium (their inner equinox, if you will) most successfully conveyed in Henry, the nice guy mechanic. At first we meet a character crippled by self consciousness, and seemingly petrified of women. His best friend attempts to get him to meet his sister, but Henry is reluctant to go. At home, Rosie (Marisia Tomai), an attractive but mouthy young prostitute neighbour begs him to look after her crying infant, and when she rewards him with a kiss he pretty much collapses in shock.

But as the film continues we start to know a different character. When Rosie returns and bestows him more than a kiss, Henry feels emboldened enough to violently confront her aggressive pimp. Rosie is of a classic Rudolph type – the melancholic woman who uses sex as self medication. “I like men. I like the feel of their bodies” she says, echoing similar comments by Eve in Choose Me. Henry’s new found aggression directly leads to Rosie’s death. At first he seems to acknowledge the consequences of his surprising behaviour, but rather than examining this guilt Rudolph chooses to switch focus to another odd-romance, now between Henry and his friend’s sister, Beverly.

Beverly (Lara Flynn Boyle) is an equally morose woman who medicates with wine rather than men. We first see her at home, reading Emily Dickinson out loud to herself and receiving silent phone calls from the frustrated Henry. They are finally brought together at a meal with Beverly’s brother. The unease between them is eventually explained as the residue of a previous sexual encounter.  “It was wonderful, Henry” she says, flatly. “I enjoyed it. Didn’t you?” Her face tells a different story. “I forced myself on you, Beverly” Henry confesses, but she wants to downplay the aggression. “You were forceful but you didn’t force yourself on me...entirely.” She looks wounded, but steadies herself. “We laughed, and we touched each other, and we made love. And I felt comfortable...sort of.” The encounter was a month ago, and in the meantime Henry hadn’t called (well, at least he hadn’t called and spoken) Beverly’s sense of rejection, and her own confusion at the events, has clearly led to some kind of depression. “Was I really that horrible?” she asks, turning what sounds like a sexual assault into a failure of her own making. Henry is similarly confused; scared of the sexual aggression that clouds his desire for Beverly. “There’s always this pushing and pulling inside of me. I don’t know what it is, it’s just there. I never know what to do, so I just don’t do anything.”

Strikingly, these two female characters both seem to will themselves into abusive relationships. Rosie shows no sign of wanting to ditch her pimp and Beverly is happy to view Henry’s Jekyll and Hyde routine as a mark of mischannelled affection. Like in Choose Me (where the three female characters all find themselves drawn to a mysterious, and possibly murderous homme fatale) Rudolph’s women are desperate romantics (self deluded or not) masochistically allowing themselves to be subjugated to male authority.

Rudolph’s previous film, Mortal Thoughts, concerns the killing of an abusive male, and two female victims who attempt to cover up the crime. In this film we get no Henry style mea culpa from the two dimensionally horrid James (Bruce Willis). Yet strangely this lack of hand wringing does not stop the film from entering into its own moral grey area. The story is structured around the police interrogation of Cynthia (Demi Moore), best friend of Joyce (Glenne Headly), James’ widow and chief suspect. In contrast to Equinox, this time we actually get to see the sexual assault, but Rudolph leaves it until near the end of the film. James is stabbed by his distressed prey, and eventually bleeds to death. His act of sexual violence is summarily punished, but any Thelma and Louise style justification is negated by a plot twist that appears to frame one of the women as a crafty manipulator, thus turning Willis’ misogynist ogre into some kind of victim.

Whilst both films are most likely minor works in the director’s canon, each is notable for this subversive approach to sexual aggression. Rudolph’s unexpected probing of the liberal consensus regarding non-consensual sex makes for uncomfortable viewing.