Ben is in Fur

Has anyone out there seen Polanski’s latest and, it seems, intended to be final film, variously known as J’ACCUSE and AN OFFICER AND A SPY? Is it any good? I’m contemplating just buying the damn thing but I’m wary, only because I thought BASED ON A TRUE STORY was an absolute snooze.

And I also watched A THERAPY, essentially an extended ad for Prada starring Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter, and that was a bore — not even a crashing one, more just a muffled thud sort of affair — even though the basic concept of a therapist getting distracted from a tedious client by her supposedly enticing coat is, on paper, a reasonably amusing one. It even echoes the fetishism of THE TENANT and VENUS IN FUR. And I admire some of Polanski’s other bitty films, like his CHACUN SA CINEMA short which is just a stupid joke but is very well told, and it’s certainly one of the best in that rather clunky series.

A THERAPY actually makes me cross because I assume Polanski and his actors were paid insane amounts of money to do it. And while the actors and production designer do creditable work, Polanski does… nothing at all. I mean, you might think, for the king’s ransom he’s presumably getting (because I don’t think he should do such a project unless the money is absurd, since I assume he’s not desperate), you might think I say again, that he might consider maybe moving the camera? or doing something creative, something that perhaps a TV soap hack might not think of?

I suppose it perhaps comes down to Polanski’s artistic integrity, which is definitely, stubbornly THERE — he may have looked at the material and decided that this blandly efficient, unimaginative decoupage was the correct approach for the material, regardless of how dull the effect would be. In which case, I suppose, we should admire his rigour. But I would suggest you do it from a distance and not actually waste time watching the thing.

A THERAPY stars Gandhi and Mrs.Bucket.

7 Responses to “Ben is in Fur”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    I’ve seen the Polanski film but in a non-subtitled version and can affirm it is well worth seeing. However, one poster on FB stated it owed a lot to an earlier Ken Russell version that featured Oliver Reed, Tet, I supposed anything BASED ON A TRUE STORY has to stick to the foundations and Polanski’s documentation of railroading based on false accusations contains a resonance in this particular era, especially in the case of Woody Allen. Both he and Polanski’s film can not get any showing in “the ;land of the free.”

  2. bensondonald Says:

    Long ago I saw a one-panel cartoon of a matron expressing angst on a psychiatrist’s couch, while out of her sight the psychiatrist is wearing her fur coat and admiring himself in a mirror. Based on a gag from a magazine?

  3. I’m really looking forward to this and am tempted to go to the lengths of buying the French blu-ray, ripping and adding English subs file as no authorised version seems to be for sale or on any service.

    I have read the Robert Harris novel on which the film is based and it was excellent.

    Reviewer who aren’t concerned about the Robespierre Twitter police seem to rate it between very good and a masterpiece.

  4. David Ehrenstein Says:

    As you know I am a major Polanski enthusiast

    Christa Fuller got ahold of a DVD of “J’ Accuse / An Officer and Spy” and quite liked it. Many years ago there was an American fi’m about the Dreyfus case entitled “J’ Accuse” scripted by Gore Vidal and starring Jose Ferrer. There is of course an enormous difference between a French film about the case (no matter who made it) and an American film. The Dreyfus case exposes the beating heart of French anti-Semitism It is the central event in Proust’s “A la recherché ” because, being a Jew with societal aspirations he not only followed it closely but went to all the trials. Zola’s heroism was of overwhelming import to him as he well knew he didn’t have the great man’s cojones. His reporting on what every level of French society had to say about the Dreyfus case is invaluable.

    Regarding Polanski specifically his Jewish identity has been central to hs life. “The Pianist” his holocaust film dealt with it directly (without the schmaltz Spielberg slavered on “Schindler’s List” The ittle boy escaping through the walls of the ghetto is a Polanski self-portrait. His mother was a very beautiful and fashionable woman who was snatched up by the gestapo one day ad sipped off to Dachau where she was incinerated on arrival. He memorializes her in “Chinatown” by having Faye Dunaway dressed and made up like his mother.

    Need I mention that the Los Angels District Attorney’s office consistently referred to Polanski as “that Jew” ?

    I expect I do.

  5. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I managed to see “J’Accuse” as well as “An Officer and a Spy” (which I think is the more apposite title since the protagonist is the gentile prosecutor who goes from being a garden variety anti-semite to a friend of Dreyfuss, whereas “J’Accuse” implies that Zola is the protagonist). Of Polanski’s recent films made in exile, I think THE GHOST WRITER and CARNAGE are excellent, with THE GHOST WRITER being a masterpiece that really speaks to the moment (not only Blair and Chilcot, but allegorically you could argue Snowden, Assange, Navalny and Putin, as well as Epstein and Trump).

    There was a lot of criticism from Jewish writers that the protagonist and story arc of Polanski’s film is based on Dujardin’s Georges Picquart, about a gentile, rather than take the position of a Jewish character. So on that level, it wasn’t the big personal declaration of defiant Jewishness that many expect. On the other hand by focusing on Dujardin, Polanski does unmask in accurate detail the level of misinformation, lies, and “fake news” that went into the military coverup of Dreyfuss, and the lengthy trial, as well as anti-Dreyfusard assassinations that happened in the aftermath (some people have theorised that Zola’s death was an assassination by the Anti-Dreyfusard terrorists too but that’s disputed).

    It’s a pretty compelling production and visually it’s quite entertaining and watchable, but it also feels lacking something. It feels a little by the numbers. It’s not the big summative masterpiece people thought Polanski had in his bag with a subject that so obviously speaks to his personal life…and that suggests some of the limitations of 1:1 auteurism. Louis Garrel is quite good as Dreyfuss but he’s barely in the film, Dujardin as Picquart is very good and Emmanuelle Seigneur as Picquart’s mistress is of course a great presence. In general, I think Polanski works best in the realm of pure fiction because obviously a story like “J’Accuse” does have a somewhat positive ending in that Dreyfuss was exonerated eventually whereas Polanski’s dramatic instincts would lean to a story like this ending very badly (and ultimately you could argue it did, since the Vichy collusion with the Shoah was driven in part by revenge over Dreyfuss’ exoneration).

  6. OK, I’m going to see it. Somehow.

    It has the advantage of being a very strong story, which Based on a True Story is not.

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    Maybe “Based on a True Story” is unfortunately necessary because of this era of “Fake News” and Majorie Taylor-Gtreen’s anti-semitism which the GOP did nothing about. David E has expertly, as always, drawn attention to certain key issues as has SR in his concluding sentence.

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