Monthly Archives: September 2010

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go is a hollow hunk of emo-camp masquerading as highbrow literary fare, a Stephanie Meyer novel directed by Antonioni, a film about (I think) the dehumanization of humans that purports to have a nobler stance on human values than the subhuman values it condemns. But Charlotte Rampling is in it!

Charlotte Rampling! Did you hear me? I said Charlotte Rampling!

Truthfully, La Ramp doesn’t have much to do here. It’s a bad part, written, it seems, by a sixth grader who had Henry James explained to him by another sixth grader, and I gritted my teeth through her every stilted scene. If only I had the DeLorean from Back to the Future, I would have set it to take me to that fateful moment, probably around a year and a half ago, when Charlotte was advised to accept the role of the mean old schoolmarm (oh, she’s so strict!). In no time at all, Christopher Lloyd and I would have stopped her, and then, like the sun drying out a dirty pond, her likeness would evaporate from each and every print of Never Let Me Go. Great Scott! History would never know the difference.

Charlotte Rampling! I could count the ways! The Night PorterStardust MemoriesUnder the Sand…Should I go on? I could.

There is one moment, six hours into the picture, when my darling Char – until then all smiles and English grace – lowers her eyelids in spite and pity. In that moment, she seems to grin maniacally, of course without cracking a smile. It’s chilling, more chilling in fact than any of Mark Romanek’s attempts at “chilling imagery,” and watching it, I felt my throat close up and my heart turn black. I felt – for the first and only time in the picture – I was in the company of a major actor. It was glorious.

The rest of the movie was smugly self-pitying, almost miraculously without content, and worst of all, more than a touch contemptuous of the audience’s honest, God-given craving for catharsis.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is that this material might have made for fascinating viewing. But unfortunately, Never Let Me Go, with its after-the-prom ideas of love and death, is all mood, and within about twenty minutes begins to chafe horribly, like dry humping in the Mojave.

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Goodbye, Claude Chabrol

I guess I thought Claude Chabrol, having made fifty-some movies in fifty-some years, wouldn’t die any time soon. Least of all today.

I guess, somehow, I thought the gentleman director of Les Biches, Le Boucher, and the only Madame Bovary worth seeing, would have to live on, if only to show serious film-going Americans that he deserved to be referenced not as a footnote or appreciative aside, but up top with Godard and Truffaut, where every discussion of the French New Wave invariably begins.

I realize now that Chabrol and I have had what I can only describe as a private relationship. Seems an unusual way to characterize an association with a person one has never met, but as I think back on it I’m certain it’s true. I tend not to go on and on about The Story of Women or Merci Pour Le Chocolat, though I’d like to. And on that rare occasion when I can get rapturous about La Femme Infidele without changing the subject, I feel an urge to keep it together.

Am I protecting him from opposition? Am I, like one of Chabrol’s stable of hypocrites, stifling my excitement for the sake of propriety? Maybe. But I suspect there is something darker to it, something more perverse. As I think back on those nights (they must always be nights) when I watched Chabrol in public, with an audience, or at least a group of friends, I remember feeling my attention split. The direct artery between me and Chabrol would fracture and spread to each person around me, and the otherwise volcanic force of blood flow would be slowed. A fidget to my left, a laugh to my right, and the acute sense of focus Chabrol works so hard to maintain would be lost.

Of course every careful filmmaker deserves careful focus, and to say one deserves more than another is to show a personal favoritism that most careful critics try to avoid. But in the case of Claude Chabrol, whose cinematic volume was turned down to whisper level, there is an impulse to sit as close to the screen as possible, to put one’s ears and eyes right up against the image and take a deep breath in, like a lone yogi sitting on a mountain top.

Chabrol is often compared with Hitchcock, and for good reason; they share similar interests, a similar sense of humor, and Chabrol himself invites the comparison (his book, Hitchcock: The First Forty Films, written with Eric Rohmer, is considered to be one of the best of Hitchcockiana’s first generation). But when I watch Vertigo, I sit far away from the screen. Hitch’s English libido – raging with despair, fraught with guilt – can be that overpowering. Chabrol, French as they come, is so at ease with his unease that sometimes it looks like he isn’t doing anything at all.

Claude Chabrol

(June 24, 1930 – September 12, 2010)

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