What ‘Greta’ could have been

Greta Poster

Greta has all the ingredients to be a much more elevated film. The stalker and prey duo played by veteran French actress Isabelle Huppert and the popular young star Chloë Grace Moretz make a perfect match, director Neil Jordan has top talents in his helm.

At first, looking at the cast and the director’s filmography, I was expecting a psychological thriller. Jordan had won an Oscar for writing the original screenplay of The Crying Game (1992) which he also directed. Later he brought us The End of the Affair (1999), a memorable adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, again as writer/director. Greta is the Irish director’s most recent feature.

With the older woman stalking a young, innocent prey storyline, Greta could have developed into a deeper, character-focused movie, with more backstory, maybe even a poignant depiction of loss, loneliness, and obsession. Actually it would have been Huppert’s forte to do just that. As Greta Hideg, a widow living by herself in NYC with only her piano music as companion, the role sheds a little reminiscence of Huppert’s Cannes winning character in The Piano Teacher (2001) directed by Michael Haneke. But here she is simply a violent psychopath.

A young, new transplant to NYC, Frances (Moretz) finds the handbag that Greta has left in the subway train. With good intention and much naiveté, she locates Greta’s address and brings it all the way to her home. The rest of the story unfolds with expected development but unexpected, sudden loud sounds aim to scare and shock. Thanks to the ‘chemistry’ between the two stars and their engaging performance, the movie holds up for the first hour. A third character, the free-wheeling roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) is a balm to a distressed Frances, and I admit, to us viewers as well.

The first 60 minutes of the movie was well grounded for some deeper development of story and characterization. However, writer/director Jordan chose the path of the horror genre and its wares, lapsing the second part into unconvincing maneuvers. Huppert as a revenger in Elle is psychologically thrilling; Huppert as a psychopath goes bonkers in Greta is ludicrous. When you hear laughter in the dark theatre during a horror movie, you can almost gauge the effectiveness of the intention.

As for the prominent leitmotif, Franz Liszt’s Liebestraum (Love Dream), it just serves to stir up yearnings for something deeper and artistically satisfying, instead of, alas, leaving us with an illusive dream.

~ ~ Ripples

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Other Isabelle Huppert’s films reviewed on Ripple Effects:

Things to Come

Claire’s Camera

 

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‘Claire’s Camera’ is a Whimsical Look at Communication

A Korean director shooting a film while attending the Cannes Film Festival, with two prominent Korean and French actors in his cast, taking just days in shooting to make what seems like a spontaneous gig had resulted in this whimsical 69-minute dramedy. Looks like something only the prolific, Cannes-honored director Hong Sangsoo can pull off. The versatile Isabelle Huppert (Things to Come, Elle) in one of her interviews said it took her only five days to do Claire’s Camera with Hong, with no script, except a daily run-through of the day’s story and lines.

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Kim Minhee and Isabelle Huppert in Hong Sangsoo’s Claire’s Camera. Photo courtesy of Cinema Guild.

This is Huppert’s second time collaborating with Hong. The parallels in Claire’s Camera with real life are the very elements that lends to the film’s subtle humour. Claire (Huppert) is a school teacher from Paris visiting Cannes for the first time, accompanying a friend to the Film Festival. While wandering alone in this seaside resort taking pictures with her camera, Claire bumps into a triangle entanglement: a Korean director So (Jung Jinyoung), his film’s sales rep Yanghye (Chang Mihee) who has more than just a business relationship with So, and separately, her sales assistant Manhee (played by Hong’s muse Kim Minhee, On the Beach at Night Alone), whom she fires as she finds out Manhee’s one-night stand with the director.

Claire makes fast friends with Manhee after they meet on the beach. Here we see two actors from different countries using English to communicate, a language that’s not their own mother tongue. The verbal limitations may be a bother for some watching the film, but apparently not a hindrance for the two of them striking up an instant, equal friendship. They seem to know what the other is trying to say, and they care to ask each other questions, some quite personal, in order to know the other more.

Contrast that to a conversation where Manhee has with her boss Yanghye over coffee when she gets the message that she’s fired. They share the same Korean language, yet their interlocution is marked by unspoken sentiments and the boss’s minimal attempt to make it a two-way flow. Here’s a realistic depiction of a lopsided communication, one that’s not exclusive to the Korean culture. Those in authority hold the key to conversations.

In another scene, the lack of communication is what makes the naturalistic, deadpan humor work. When Claire first meets director So, the two are sitting at adjacent tables outside a café. As conversation begins, So asks Claire if he can sit with her at her table. She agrees and he stands up and moves to sit by her. But then the two have nothing more to say to each other, maybe due to language limitations. Claire then goes on to Google him on her phone to find out more about this director who’s sitting beside her. One has to take this as a comedic scene to appreciate the irony.

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Jung Jinyoung and Isabelle Huppert in Claire’s Camera. Photo courtesy of Cinema Guild. 

The film is breezy and leisurely as the Cannes seaside, refreshing as the yellow jacket Claire is wearing; incidentally, her ‘costume’ is the actual wardrobe Huppert had brought when she was attending Cannes at that time. The setting is scenic and pleasant, whether it’s the pounding waves or the small lanes winding along cafes. No, we don’t get to see the red carpet or any of the glamour of the Cannes Film Festival, but we’re led into the side streets of storytelling.

The pitfall for those not familiar with Hong’s eccentric style could be the naturalistic, seemingly unscripted demeanours of his actors and their haphazard dialogues, and in this case especially sound laboured when characters try to interact with each other in a foreign language. And speaking of communication, the usual hard-drinking of his characters—director So here—could well be a language of expression in itself.

As for the camera Claire is always carrying, one would wish Hong could have used that a bit more, cinematically and imbued with deeper meaning. Hers is a Polaroid, so the image appears slowly on a hard copy. But we don’t get to see this effect or be led to any deeper relevance. However, in one notable dialogue towards the end when Manhee finally asks Claire a question that must have been on her mind all along, we finally hear something revealing:

Manhee: Why do you take pictures?

Claire: Because the only way to change things is to look at everything again very slowly.

Manhee: That sounds very nice.

The unfinished part seems to be, “but do we do it?”

Considering Hong Sangsoo’s signature style of repeating his film sequences in a movie like we’re watching it all over again but towards different results, Claire’s words could be more layered than they appear, and the slow appearing of an image on the Polaroid print could well be a mirroring for reflection.

Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, 2017, Claire’s Camera has since been playing in film festivals all over the world. Cinema Guild will be releasing the film on Blu-Ray and DVD beginning Nov. 6, 2018. For more details click here: http://www.cinemaguild.com/theatrical/clairescamera.html

~ ~ ~ Ripples 

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Related Reviews:

Let Things to Come be a Cooling Respite 

Art Imitates Life in Hong Sang-soo’s ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’

‘The Day After’ is a re-enactment Hong Sang-soo Style

Let ‘Things to Come’ be a Cooling Respite

July’s gone, but we’ll always have Paris.

There are many words I can use to describe the Paris born, veteran (here’s one of them) French actress Isabelle Huppert. Prolific, versatile, and age-defying. In 2016, two of her works came to prominence in the awards circuit, two features that show her in distinctly different roles that won her acclaims across the Atlantic. Playing a vigilant woman who schemingly fight back a rapist in her neighborhood in Elle, Huppert garnered a Best Actress Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.

Things to Come

The other feature is Things to Come. Huppert is Nathalie Chazeaux, a philosophy professor, a published academic writer and editor, a mother of two almost grown children, a wife, a daughter, and a woman at the crossroads in her life.

On the career and academic front, Nathalie’s just been told by her publisher that her textbook would no longer be needed. On the home front, her husband of 25 years, Heinz (André Macron), has just confessed to her that he’s seeing another woman and will be leaving Nathalie to live with his younger love. Even though on good terms with their parents, her two children have grown enough to move away from home. As a daughter, Nathalie has to deal with a dementia-afflicted mother (Edith Scob) who calls her cell phone even while she’s teaching, delusional and threatening suicide. What is Nathalie to do?

Here, I must mention another crucial figure in the production, and that’s director Mia Hansen-Løve, who won Best Director with this feature at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2016. At eighteen, Hansen-Løve was cast by French director Olivier Assayas and later starred in another of his works. Partnered with him for a while, she’d chosen her own path, studying philosophy, writing for the prestigious French film magazine Cahiers Du Cinema, and later, directing.

Daughter of two philosophy professors, Hansen-Løve’s preoccupation with intellectual discourse is apparent in Things to ComeIn an interview, she’d said, “… for me, cinema is nothing but another way to practice philosophy… cinema is a search for wisdom, a search for good and for beauty, like philosophy could have been a search for my parents.” The intellectual exploration of what’s good and Utopian predominates in Things to Come. The film is worth a second, or third viewing just to capture the dialogues.

While she may be tossed like a floating weed in the torrents of life, Nathalie enjoys the fruit of her labor in her former star pupil Fabien (Roman Kolinka), now a writer and activist. However, as she’d influenced Fabien in his pursuit of philosophy and writing, he’d also chosen his own path by living with a few anarchists in a remote cabin in the French countryside. His outlook diverges from hers and which she can’t agree, ironically, that’s the reward of her teaching: training one to think for oneself and to choose one’s own path independently.

Upon his invitation, Nathalie had spent a few days there, an idyllic ,rural setting for her to recuperate from a life unhinged. She’s got her mother’s cat with her, Pandora, a cat that’s not used to the wild but takes off the instant Nathalie takes her out of the cabin. Lost for hours but Pandora finally finds her way back to the country abode in the middle of the night. ‘Instinct’, Fabien says. And that just might be what Nathalie needs to hang on to at this moment of her life.

Surely, Things to Come is a ‘thinking’ film, but viewers will also enjoy the nuanced performance of the cast, and what the camera reveals in the form of natural beauty and serenity for one to search things out. What more, Hansen-Løve lets us see both the larger scale of a flaw-ridden society and the trivial foibles in the interactions between Nathalie and Heinz.

Female viewers would likely find affiliation with Huppert’s role of an urban, professional woman who has to juggle many hats to fulfill her duties. Nathalie’s search for direction at the crossroads may not necessarily lead to obvious answers, but she manages to find comfort and joy in the birth of her grandchild, an endearing scene to end the film.

More importantly, Nathalie seems to have carved out a quiet solitude. an independence to mull on the unfathomable in life. Still searching, but in the meantime, she seems to have found a respite, a new solace to face what things may come.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples 

 

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