Isabelle Huppert

Greta

29/04/19

Neil Jordan is always an interesting director. From his debut with Angel in 1981, through Hollywood blockbusters like Interview With the Vampire, to little jewels like Breakfast on Pluto, he has steadfastly resisted being confined to a particular genre, instead choosing to nip effortlessly back and forth across various categories with alacrity. Greta sees him diving into an old-school psychological thriller, once again tearing up the rule book as he goes, and emerging with something gloriously off-kilter.

Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) lives in a swish Tribeca apartment with her rich and spoiled flat mate, Erica (Maika Monroe),  earning her rent money as a waitress in a swish Manhattan restaurant. Heading home from work on the subway one night, she chances upon a handbag, which contains the ID for Greta Hildeg (Isabelle Huppert). Though Erica urges Frances to spend the bundle of money that’s also in there,  she decides to do the decent thing and return it to the owner, who turns out to be a lonely piano teacher. Frances has recently lost her mother, and she instantly warms to Greta’s maternal and affectionate manner.

Much to Erica’s disgust, Frances and Greta quickly form a friendship, but Greta soon begins to overstep the mark, coming on way too strong. When Frances makes a chilling discovery in Greta’s apartment, she attempts to call a halt to the friendship, but Greta does not want it to end and seems prepared to go to any lengths in order to keep Frances in her clutches…

This is by no means a perfect film – indeed, there’s a plot twist at one point that frankly beggars belief – but Jordan is very adept at using the tropes of more conventional horror movies to create almost unbearable levels of suspense, something he manages to maintain until the very final frame. It’s refreshing too to see a film that offers three terrific lead roles for women, while the male cast members are merely incidental characters. That said, I felt a tad sorry for Jordan’s old comrade, Stephen Rea, lumbered with a thankless cameo as a detective, stumbling towards his own destruction. Huppert is terrific in the title role (so good that I’m almost ready to forgive her for her involvement in the repellant Elle) and Moretz and Monroe also acquit themselves well.

Given the unfortunate timing of its release (pitched against the audience-gobbling behemoth that is Avengers: End Game) Greta has inevitably been somewhat lost in the shuffle, which is a great shame because – that dodgy plot device notwithstanding – there’s plenty to recommend in this wiry, old-fashioned thriller.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Happy End

30/12/17

It has long been a tradition in our household that I choose to visit the cinema on my birthday – but since that birthday falls at an awkward time of year, it isn’t always easy to find something decent to watch. I was therefore delighted to note that the Cameo Cinema was offering a screening of Michael Haneke’s Happy End. While it can hardly be regarded as cheery birthday fare, Haneke’s films are always challenging to say the very least.

The film centres around the upper-bourgeois Laurent family who own a construction company based in Calais, against the troubling background of the migrant crisis.  The widowed patriarch of the family, George (Jean Louis Trintignant), is rapidly succumbing to dementia and spends much of his time actively trying to end it all. Meanwhile, his daughter, Anne (Isabelle Huppert), runs the business in her own no-nonsense manner, whilst vainly trying to interest her hapless son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), in the idea of taking over from her – but it’s clear that he’s not really cut out for this kind of life. When an industrial accident results in the death of an employee, matters come to a head – and, at the same time, George’s son, Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), a well-to-do doctor, has to unexpectedly offer a home to his estranged teenage daughter, Anais (a remarkable performance from Laura Verlinden), whose mother has recently died from poisoning. Thomas is now remarried and has an infant son. It’s quite clear that he isn’t really sure how to interact with Anais – and there are still disturbing questions to be asked about what happened to her mother…

This is typical Haneke territory – the story is never clear cut, but gradually unfolds in a series of incredibly realistic vignettes. There are long takes, often shot from a distance, where the viewer is made to feel like a voyeur spying on the proceedings, an effect heightened by the way Anais records much of the action on her mobile phone – and at several points we are presented with revelations that make us reconsider many of the conclusions we have already drawn.

Haneke isn’t to everyone’s taste. His is an uncompromising world-view that takes no prisoners, but he is a unique talent that deserves to be celebrated and, to my mind at least, this is an excellent way to conclude the year’s viewing.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Elle

13/03/17

Elle is an accomplished piece of film-making, with undeniably strong performances from its talented cast, with Huppert – unsurprisingly – proving utterly compelling as Michèle, a successful business woman navigating her response to a violent rape.

There’s much to commend this movie: it’s always engaging and never clichéd. It looks glorious: all cold winter colours and long windows; it’s languorous and sexy and full of surprises. But I’m struggling. I can’t overcome my discomfort with the idea of a narrative where a woman wants to be raped. Is that what happens here? Is that how she wrests control from her attacker – by asserting her desire for that which he would rather seize from an unwilling victim? It seems a sorry sort of power. I’ve read articles referring to this as a post-feminist narrative, celebrating Michèle’s strength and sexual confidence. And there’s some merit to this argument: she refuses to become a victim, does not conform to expectations that she should be somehow broken by the act. She remains a sexual being, with urges she follows, even when there’s a moral compromise. This is no two-dimensional character.

And yet. And yet. Her attacker still breaks into her home wearing a mask, hits her, abuses her. He violates her. She has no say. Choosing a repeat performance cannot be construed as somehow winning, can it? Especially as retribution, when it happens, is exacted for her by a man.

So, I don’t know. I don’t think rape stories should be banned, and I don’t think they should all be morality tales with deserving victims and evil perpetrators. I like that Michèle is a difficult, unlikeable person, with a strange past and questionable values. But I do wonder, really, what this particular film – with its male director (Paul Verhoeven) and its three male writers (David Birke, Philippe Djian and Harold Manning) – is really saying about violent assault against women. It’s a conundrum, that’s for sure.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield