We enjoy all sorts of thrillers here at MMM, from non-stop action romps to inexplicable international arthouse adventures, from popcorn puff to self-indulgent intellectualism.* Recently we’ve seen three wonderfully weird examples of world cinema, each of which revolves around a captivating female central character. Each of them is a solid four-star flick, worthy of your attention for an entire evening…
The Eye Of Silence
Part slow-burn thriller, part social expose, The Eye Of Silence revolves around Amelie – an independent young woman in modern Beijing. Initially she seems to be just another party girl, getting increasingly desperate at the years roll by and she has neither husband nor a wealthy lover. But her bizarre ‘cats’ eyes’ make her different to the millions of other rural girls who’ve been chewed up and spat out by the urban maw of China’s increasingly capitalist society.
On one level, this is a tense, compelling story of misbehaviour and murder, in which loss and redemption are portrayed in exquisitely delicate opposition. Seen another way, it’s a critique of 21st century Chinese society and its descent into superficial consumerist frivolity – where human life is essentially worthless if it’s not immediately entertaining.
Thought-provoking stuff, either way. An unsettling but stimulating international art-house movie. Explicit and intriguing with a powerful central performance.
Chinese dialogue, subtitled in English.
Kumiko The Treasure Hunter
A seriously introverted study of obsession and insanity. Overwhelming insight into the closed, buffered world of the genuinely insane, where their own closed beliefs are always more valid, more real to them than simple truths and facts, where genuine offers of help from others are viewed as threats and dishonesties. Based around the movie Fargo and an urban myth (itself untrue), the shrinking diminutive Kumiko kept reminding me of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Brilliant job. Watch only if you’re feeling too cheerful or your friends are all certifiably sane…
Japanese dialogue, subtitled in English.
If ever a film should divide audiences then this is it. The springboard event of a violent, non-consensual sexual attack inevitably dominates the narrative, into which dark strands of provocative psychosexual kinks are woven right alongside familial angst—and near-incandescent anger.
Isabell Huppert’s central performance is outright riveting. Her character is complex and challenging, wonderfully three-dimensional; a survivor of terrible, traumatic events whose life has been defined by the appalling actions of her father but who refuses to submit to the status of victim.
She’s outwardly super-successful, inwardly utterly isolated. So desperate for validation that she takes her best friend’s husband as a lover. So unsparingly forthright that her love for her son and her mother is only ever tough. So delicately written that she is also witty and more than a little wild, both pitiful and powerful.
This is quite a long film, over two hours, but we could barely blink for fear of missing the next outrageous event or subtle nuance – a shrug or a wink, delivered with Gallic grace. The subject matter is extremely unsettling and the rape scenes make for gruelling viewing – but if you can overcome your flinch response then you’ll see how Elle asserts herself to overcome the ultimate adversity: her inner enemy.
Despite what some say, there is no titillation in the rape scenes. And surprisingly there are many moments of adroitly-observed comedy scattered amid the intellectual and emotional conflicts. Uncomfortable? Indeed. But a subject well worth discussing.
French dialogue, subtitled in English.
Movies reviewed by Rowena Hoseason and Frank Westworth
Find Frank Westworth’s thrillers at Amazon
*we’ve never been there, but the brochure looks nice