Muckrakers

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I always had slight doubts about the authenticity of my South Korean DVD or Zulawski’s LA FIDELITE, but when I finally got around to playing it and the label promptly shredded off of disc 1, I began to think it might not be wholly legit. The muddy transfer and the odd ratio of 14:9 — not anyone’s standard frame, anywhere, since the sixties — seems to further suggest that I may have been sold a pup.

The film itself is fairly terrific, and I should invest in an upgrade. Zulawski’s partner, Sophie Marceau, with whom he had already made three films (which I still have to look forward to), stars in an adaptation/update of Madame La Fayette’s 1678 novel La Princesse de Cleves. I must admit I’d underrated her, having only seen her in Tavernier’s DARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER and the Bond film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. Oh, and bloody BRAVEHEART. None of which are her best work, it seems. I hate BRAVEHEART, in which her main purpose, like that of most female leads in action films, is to alibi the lead’s heterosexuality (but see here for a problematizing fact-check at around 3:50). On D’ARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER she was responsible for getting octogenarian maestro Riccardo Freda fired from his last chance of directing a film, which rather makes me despise her. Later, giving her opinion about the film, she said that there was too much about Philippe Noiret and the other musketeers and not enough about her. Needless to say, I found her cold-blooded bitch character in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH quite convincing.

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But in fact, whatever she may be like in real life (and I have no actual way of knowing), she can be a tremendously sympathetic and intelligent and compelling presence onscreen, as LA FIDELITE shows — she humanizes the extremes of Zulawski’s cinema in a way no other actor I’ve seen can do. In fact it’s the husband character in the film (Pascale Greggory) who goes in for more of the director’s favoured mannerisms, flailing, spasming and twitching, though he does this less often and less frenetically than, say, the stars of POSSESSION. In fact, in many ways he has the feminine role, stuck in the role of “good spouse,” largely passive and pensive — he even writes a message on a mirror in eyeliner (it’s a lengthy quotation, so lipstick wouldn’t have worked).

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As so often with historical material dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age (the twenty-first century, just), there are some awkward plot hurdles where society today may not offer exact analogues for the source’s action. Here, Zulawski contrives a subplot about illegal organ-trading which doesn’t seem to even try for plausibility — a shot of bootleg eyeballs shows a fuming tray with eyes, complete with eyelids and dainty eyelashes — periodic bursts of John Woo-style slomo machine-gun action interrupt the relatively naturalistic moments of emotional turbulence with surprising frequency. Relocating the plot from the world of aristocrats to the world of a modern press tycoon works neatly, though, and the film does remind you how detestable the tabloid press is. Hilariously, the saturnine tycoon is called Rupert Mac Roi.

Marceau emotes movingly, and indulges in vigorous sex scenes with Greggory while yearning for loutish-yet-sensitive Guillaume Canet. She’s also convincing as a photographer and artist. Edith Scob blows a raspberry. She didn’t do that in EYES WITHOUT A FACE — her mask would have blasted off.

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9 Responses to “Muckrakers”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    This is a fantastic film! Zulawski made it as a bid to win back the ghastly Sophie after she became rather friendly with Mel Gibson – in the hope, apparently, of having a Hollywood career. Sorry, sweetie, but only God can work miracles! Sophie Marceau is magical in Zulawski´s films but utterly useless in anything else. And La FIdelite is not even the best of their work together. For that, check out La Note Bleue.

  2. It amuses me that Zulawski scored his biggest French hits with Romy Schneider and Sophie Marceau, both of whom had come to fame in uncool juvenile movies and were desperate to destroy their squeaky-clean images. And Zulawski, for whom the word “iconoclast” could have been invented, was the man for the job.

  3. Patrice Chereau hated Pascale Greggory’s performance in Rohmer’s Pauline at the Beach. But he’s so cute, I said. “Yes he’s always cute, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing!” On a more personal level Chereau opined of Greggory “We got along a lot better after we broke up.”

  4. An actor doesn’t necessarily need to know what he’s doing, does he? As long as he’s being honest and interesting and the director knows what he’s doing… He’s aged interestingly — no longer cute, I’d say, by the time of La Fidelite, but quirky and striking.

  5. And I’d say by the time of Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

  6. He’s got Jean-Marc Barr syndrome. Though Barr didn’t get that much more interesting.

  7. Jean-Marc is loads of fun. He has the BEST Udo Kier stories.

  8. david wingrove Says:

    Are there any dull Udo Kier stories? I doubt it.

  9. Mine is kind of dull. Saw him at the Pompidou Centre. My friend said “It’s Udo Fucking Kier!” Nothing happened.

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