Wednesday, February 1, 2017

In the Cut

IN THE CUT              A                   
USA  Australia  Great Britain  (120 mi)  2003  d:  Jane Campion 

Sumptuously photographed by Dion Beebe, filmed 100 % in New York City, this film has an incredibly sensuous and seamy style to it.  Sex and violence are beautifully brought together here in a steamy erotic thriller where Jane Campion integrates the urban underbelly of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) with the growing female paranoia from Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941).  Since becoming the first and only woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes for The Piano (1993), a lush study of repression, Campion has garnered a reputation for making ardently feminist films featuring a powerful and courageous woman as a central figure.  But that doesn’t suggest her films are easy to digest, as evidenced by the virile review of the film by New York film critic Armond White Porn Theater and In the Cut | - New York's essential ..., “Feminism has garnered more favor in the mainstream media than has gay rights. This has nothing to do with correct thinking or sensitivity.  As Jane Campion’s movies demonstrate, it is the result of privileged insensitivity,” calling the filmmaker a “con-artist” whose film is “the latest example of the way she uses sexual paranoia to appeal to the weak-minded sympathies of feminist critics and audiences.”  Lest we remember White also called Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami a “backward third-world esthete.”  Part of the resentment seems to derive from women freely adapting noir urban thrillers, territory that has previously been considered an exclusive male domain.  Campion’s interest within the genre is redefining the women’s role, taking that same exploitive melodramatic female hysteria of women caught up in trouble, but exploring the fractured, internalized world from a different perspective.  All she’s really doing is balancing the playing field, turning the story on edge using instead a female protagonist.  The film is an adaptation of the 2003 novel by Susanna Moore, an erotic mystery thriller starring Meg Ryan, who made a career in the late 80’s and 90’s making homogenized mainstream American comedies.  Campion originally worked for five years developing the film with Nicole Kidman (who remained a producer), but she got caught up in a messy and heavily publicized divorce with über megastar actor Tom Cruise. 

Given that the film’s aesthetic is saturated in a dreamlike, impressionistic allure of color, the realistic aspect of the story may seem a bit improbable, where the now fortyish Meg Ryan is Frannie, a New York high school teacher and amateur linguist with an interest in the origins of slang, who continuously allows herself to be put in harm's way, almost as if she was hypnotized.  However, this adds sensuality to the developing suspense, where every male in her mind becomes increasingly suspect as she nearly sleepwalks through this role, such is the dreamlike quality of her performance, while her sister Pauline, stunningly played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, gives one of her best performances as well.  Both are world weary, affectionately close, neither passing judgment on the others life.  The love between the two is overwhelming, as is their incredible need for love and intimacy.  It's that feeling, the need to be needed, that dominates this film, as the two sisters appear to be sadly out of kilter with the world around them, as if it has somehow passed them by and they are settling for the leftovers.  Opening strangely with the oddly hypnotic Que Sera Sera -- Pink Martini - YouTube (3:01) as petals fall over the Manhattan skyline, we’re already somehow part of a young girl’s fantasy, where the film revolves around Frannie’s sexual awakening, seen early on witnessing a cop getting a blowjob in the darkened back regions of a seedy bar, where the girl seen ends up murdered, where a piece of her “disarticulated” corpse is discovered near Frannie’s apartment.  Frannie is portrayed as a vaguely dissatisfied woman, divorced with few friends, where she’s drawn into the misogynistic, macho world of the police detective investigating the murder, Mark Ruffalo as Detective Malloy, where it makes no sense why Frannie would be attracted to this type of vulgar-mouthed police detective, but attracted she is, and who says desire has to make sense?  Her sister Pauline evidently wrote the book on the subject, encouraging her to finally connect with someone.

Some of the more genuinely affecting scenes in the film come between the detective and his partner, Detective Rodriguez (Nick Damici), where the combative language and police jargon perfectly captures the street oriented racism that is etched into their equally sexist dialogue, where both of these guys exhibit a crudeness exclusively associated with the behavior of hardened cops.  Frannie grows both attracted and repulsed by Malloy’s boorish sexual aggressiveness, exploring the ambivalent feelings of female desire and passion, where her discovery of sexual pleasure is expressed with an emphasis almost exclusively on the woman’s enjoyment.  But this is quickly tempered with her growing suspicions that Malloy may be the murderer, as he has the same distinctive tattoo on his wrist that she observed on the cop last seen with the murder victim, where now there are others killed in the exact same manner, meaning there is a vicious serial killer on the loose.  Campion creates an intoxicatingly sensuous atmosphere steeped in sexual paranoia and violence, where every male figure suddenly becomes suspect, including her stalker-like, brain-fried former lover John, creepily played by uncredited Kevin Bacon, and a particularly interested black student Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh), the source of much of her information on slang who also makes a play for her.  These competing interests are contrasted against a highly developed internalized portrait of a women continually beaten down by the wretched horrors of the world outside, where Frannie has every reason to be petrified with fear, as the killer appears to be closing in.  Using a rich and expressive visual language, including a highly personalized film within a film, the story unfolds from Frannie’s perspective, growing ever more blurry and indefinable around the edges of the frame, matching her deteriorating mental outlook.  Meg Ryan succeeds brilliantly here in a more mature and multi-dimensional role, including full frontal nudity, breaking free from her stereotypical adorable parts that defined her career.  Claustrophobic, dark and noirish atmospheric, this is an exquisitely constructed impressionistic mood piece that somehow offers its own peculiar elegy to the mournful souls currently trying to reconstruct their lives in a post 9/11 world weary New York City.   

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