Short cuts, April 2017

Just some short notes on movies that I’ve seen recently but won’t have time to write up.

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), d. George Clooney.

This is Clooney’s evocation of the what Lillian Hellman called “Scoundrel Time”, the period of the McCarthy witchhunts.  David Strathairn plays Ed Murrow in this movie about his famous feud with Sen Joseph McCarthy. Strathairn is, as usual, superb and Joseph McCarthy plays Joseph McCarthy as if he were born for the part. The film never leaves the moral high ground, which is unavoidable in a film on this topic.  The description of McCarthy’s lying, bullying methods was quietly topical at the time the film was made, thunderously so now. Robert Elswit’s elegant, moody B&W cinematography perfectly matches the coolly indignant narrative.

 

Nocturnal Animals (2016), d. Tom Ford.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is an art gallery director with a gated-community, super fashionable lifestyle and a withering marriage to a handsome, unfaithful husband (Armie Hammer).  The strongest link in the marriage is their shared financial difficulty.  Tom Ford is a successful fashion designer and no doubt enjoyed portraying the extravagance and desiccated humanity of Susan’s milieu.  In the bizarre title sequence of an opening at Susan’s gallery, Ford rightfully and delightfully sinks his teeth into the hand that fed him.

Susan received a package containing the proof of a novel by her ex-husband Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal). She begins to read and the unfolding film switches between the narrative of the novel and the story of her marriage to Tony. The novel is a violent, suspenseful allegory of the marriage, and confronts Susan with the stability of her present marriage. Michael Shannon is, as usual, riveting in a support role.

 

Starred Up (2013), d. David Mackenzie.

David Mackenzie followed a breadcrumb path through the woods of independent making for many years, picking up crumbs of appreciation from film festivals and critics but no bread at the box office.  Starred Up marked his passage out of the woods and led onto the broad plains of Texas and commercial success with Hell or High Water.  It’s a prison movie very much in the mould of Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet.  Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) has been “starred up” – sent from juvenile to adult prison – for persistent violence.  His estranged father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) is held in the same prison and their relationship is little testy. There is a strange symbiotic relationship between the two hierarchies of the staff and prisoners, and Eric’s use of violence to make his way often backfires.  Neville is a hard case and his reluctant attempts to help his son are at odds with the Hobbesian culture of the prison.

Jonathan Asser. who wrote the script, based the story on his own experience as a prison therapist, and a therapy group features prominently in the plot. It’s a didactic intrusion into a story that speaks for itself.


Logan (2017)

Directed by James Mangold.

The Marvel superhero movies are now well into a post-heroic phase.  Where the classic superhero movies riffed on Oedipal adolescent fantasies, the genre is now splitting and recombining like channels in a delta, in order to hold on to an audience that is a little older and more knowing.

It’s similar to the evolution of the classic western post war into the adult western, in which greater dramatic complexities were superimposed on the traditional good versus evil trope, or completely superseded it. The form splintered; the revenge westerns of Anthony Mann, the decline of the West (Guns in the Afternoon, The Wild Bunch), picaresque westerns (Butch Cassidy, Cat Ballou), comedies (Support Your Local Sheriff, Blazing Saddles) and even a counterculture Western (Billy Jack).

Similarly the Marvel/DC world has produced parody (Guardians of the Galaxy), the picaresque Deadpool and the super-noir Watchmen. Now Marvel has given us the equivalent of an ageing gunslinger movie, the Wolverine on his last go-round.  James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman) is old and tired, and it’s getting harder to pop out the claws. He’s making a living driving an Uber limousine, and one night he’s sitting in it getting quietly smashed when a gang of generic thugs decide to steal his wheels. He notices that the car is being jacked up and lurches out to confront the gang. They cut up rough and are roughly cut up.

Old, drunk and ill-tempered; that’ll do me. I settled back to enjoy my kind of movie. Logan lives near the Mexican border in a George Miller junkyard with the last survivors of the mutant X-Men, Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). He is approached by a woman who wants him to escort her and a young girl to a place in North Dakota.

Now the backstory. Bad dudes in Mexico (where else?) have been trying to clone new super-powered mutants with a view to raising a mutant army to gain world domination.  The results are unsatisfactory and head baddie Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) decides to terminate the young mutants and start from scratch with synthetic mutants. The young ones escape, and one of them is the girl, Laura (Dafne Keen) whom Logan has been asked to escort. As it happens, she has been cloned from Logan’s DNA and has a mean disposition and a very nice set of claws to prove it. I should add that the violence in Logan is quite graphic, as the still above attests. It’s reported that Jackman took a pay cut to encourage the producers to make a commercially sensitive R-rated movie. As it turns out Logan is a smash hit.

The baddies arrive at the junkyard accompanied by a platoon of henchpersons and there is a bloody confrontation which goes badly for the henchpersons. Logan, Xavier and Laura hit the road and head north; the rabbits are running and the hounds are after them, apparently unhindered by the civil authorities (the movie is set in 2029). The hounds catch up in Oklahoma City and are slaughtered again; the northward flight continues.

Here and throughout the movie the main narrative interest is not in the action but the developing relationship between Logan and Laura.  Jackman gives his usual strong performance, but he is matched by the feral intensity Dafne Keen brings to Laura. They may be blood-spattered berserkers, but the bond they form is quite believable.

Logan and his companions help an African American family after a minor traffic accident. They stop for the night at the family’s farmhouse -these are Good People, it’s a little house on the prairie and they even say grace. In the middle of the night they are harassed by local rednecks and Logan helps out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3FKYqDLg3g&spfreload=10

Logan and the farmer, Will Munson (Eriq La Salle), return to the farm house to find the Munson family slaughtered and Xavier dying. The killer is X24, a mutant cloned from Logan’s blood – in effect, a younger, stronger Wolverine. He and Logan fight, and X24 is getting the upper hand when he is apparently killed by Will, who also dies. The innocent American family under threat is a common enough feature in big budget action movies, but they are usually there to be rescued, not massacred. This effects a significant change in the tonality of the film.

The introduction of X24, also played by Jackman, seems a little gratuitous but is probably necessary. Success in this genre depends on the quality of the antagonist, and thus far Zander and his minions have been unpleasant but largely ineffective. When the slambang climax comes and Logan again faces a rejuvenated X24, all the narrative conventions are meticulously observed and the final victory has an appropriately elegiac quality. To return to the Western parallels, it’s formally identical to the final scene of Peckinpah’s Guns in the Afternoon.


The Salesman (2016)

THESALESMAN_LECLIENT_ASGHARFARHADI_PHOTO5∏Habib_Majidi,SMPSP-0-2000-0-1125-crop.jpgDirected by Asghar Farhadi.

A mild earthquake in Tehran cracks the windows and shakes the foundations of an apartment building.  A tenant couple have to move out, and an acquaintance helps them to find another apartment. It’s been recently vacated by a young woman who hasn’t yet moved out all her things.

The couple, Emad (Shahab Housseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), have lead roles in a production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman’.  Emad has a day job teaching a class of adolescent boys. One day Rana is waiting for Emad to come home when she hears the buzzer of the street door. She unlocks the door, leaving the apartment door also unlocked, and goes to the bathroom to take a shower. When Emad returns he finds the apartment empty and blood on the floor in the shower. There are bloody footprints on the stairs outside. He finds Rana being treated in a local hospital – she has been attacked.  He learns from the neighbours that the previous tenant was a prostitute, and surmises that the attacker may have been one of her clients.

Farhadi is an expert explorer of the vicissitudes of the married relationship, under pressure in The Salesman, failing in A Separation (2011) or failed in The Past (2013). The couple don’t seem particularly close initially and their responses to the assault are quite divergent, although neither is willing to make a report to the police.  Rana is clearly traumatised; she is rationally afraid of the interrogation she’s likely to receive from the police, expecting them to shame her for leaving the door open. She becomes morose, refuses to bathe and is unable to perform in the play. Emad is quite unable to support her, but instead becomes obsessed with finding the intruder. His anger seems to stem from a sense that his own honour has been infringed, and his deep sense of shame can only be assuaged by finding and punishing the perpetrator..

Farhadi’s camera sticks close to the characters, holding them in medium closeup as it follows them about the confined space of the apartment. In the opening sequence of the earthquake it’s if the camera shares the characters confusion and disorientation.  We’re dragged along with the Emad’s hunt for the attacker, complicit in the search but uneasy about the likely outcome.  Along the way Faradi shows us a cold-eyed vision of gender relations in Iranian society, though he never disengages from his characters and his narrative merely in order to make a point.  He’s an outstanding director in the realist/humanist tradition. Like and follow.


Manchester by the Sea (2016)

 

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Directed by Kenneth Lonergan.

Lonergan made You Can Count On Me in 2000.  For a low budget film, it did quite good business, and the critical reception was overwhelmingly favourable – 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Since then he has worked on the script of Gangs of New York and directed the 2011 film Margaret, which was positively received. Now six years later we have Manchester by the Sea; it’s been a long wait, but as with the elephants’ pregnancy, you can’t expect him to pop one out every year. Lonergan’s movies take gestation.

The title sequence shows Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) on a fishing trip with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and Joe’s son Patrick.  Lee kids around with Patrick while Joe steers the boat. It’s an affectionate family scene, with a touch of Boston Irish masculine awkwardness. The scene shifts to suburban Boston where a much older Lee is now working as a janitor/handyman.  In a series of slightly comic encounters with the tenants, Lee is revealed as a man just doing his job, unwilling to engage and blankly unresponsive until he flares up and swears at a demanding tenant. He is alone, locked into himself, and when a woman tries to pick him up in a bar he simply doesn’t respond. He’s there for another reason – he abruptly picks a fight with two strangers and gets himself beaten up.

Lee gets a call from his hometown, Manchester-by-the-sea. Joe has had a heart attack, and Lee hurries to see him, but Joe dies before he can get there.  He stays in Joe’s house with Patrick (Lucas Hedges), who is now a teenager.  He aims to look after Patrick, who is studiously avoiding his feelings about his father’s death, until Joe’s will is read and he can make arrangements for Patrick’s care.  Elise (Gretchen Mol), Joe’s ex-wife and Patrick’s mother, has remarried and is living in a nearby town. She is an unstable alcoholic and Lee would prefer to have nothing to do with her.

All this, and scenes of Lee’s apparently happy married life, is narrated through a complex set of flashbacks which are intercut with the main plot line. Lonergan seems to have taken a leaf out of Tarantino’s book, allowing the audience to make the connections without any overt signalling.  This technique reaches its height when Joe’s lawyer reads his will to Lee.  We know that Lee was married with kids, he is now alone and something dreadful has happened. We have seen him getting rowdily drunk with his buddies in the basement of his house, until in the early hours of the morning his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) ordered them to leave. Now, at the reading of the will, Lee is distracted by memories and keeps glancing away.

He’s remembering that after his buddies left he went out to buy more beer. As he walks through the dark, Albinoni’s Adagio begins on the soundtrack.  I winced at this, that piece has been used so often in movies, but the story and the music roll on. Intercut with the will reading in which Lee learns that Joe has named him as Patrick’s guardian, we see Lee return to find the house on fire.  Randi is saved, but the children are incinerated. The Adagio continues through all of this and its terrible aftermath.  It’s a narrative gut punch but the music softens our response and allows us to contemplate rather than simply react.

Lee wants to take Patrick back to South Boston, but Patrick’s life is in Manchester and he refuses to go. Different attempts at a solution fail, but in the process the two grow closer together and Patrick begins to understand the depth of Lee’s pain. Lee starts to come out of his despair and we see him walking through the streets of Manchester with the song “I’m Beginning to See the Light” on the soundtrack when suddenly he meets Randi with her new baby.

This is as good as screen acting gets.  Randi tries to reach out to Lee but he is unable to respond and on Affleck’s face we see his fragile recovery collapse.  He turns awkwardly away, goes to a bar and gets himself beaten up.

Patrick and Lee have reforged the bond we saw in the opening scene, but after meeting Randi, Lee knows that life in Manchester would be impossible for him. He confesses brokenly to Patrick,” I can’t beat it.” There is no easy comfort in this ending, although Lee returns to Boston more at peace with himself and he and Patrick continue to spend time together. It’s a subdued but satisfying resolution.

At the Oscars, Affleck won best actor and Lonergan won best original screenplay.  Even the Academy gets some things right.

 

 


La La Land (2016)

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Directed by Damien Chazelle.

La La Land is haunted by the ghosts of older, better films.  It has its engaging moments of independent life, but too often what’s happening on screen evokes the memory of something better.  The title sequence takes place on a freeway flyover in a traffic jam – setting the LA scene with a vengeance.  One woman starts to sing, gets out of her car and begins to dance, others follow and soon there’s a big production number happening.  Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) is caught behind the car of Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress studying a script for an audition.  It’s a “meet cute” that sets up the movie’s main plot tension, two people drawn together even as their ambitions and talent pull them apart.  It sets up the ambient theme of the relation between Los Angeles and its fantastic shadow twin, La La Land.

It also evokes memories of the opening of Jacques Demy’s 1967 musical, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, with one disqualifying difference.  It’s expertly filmed, the dancing is sprightly, but the music is entirely forgettable.  Demy had a fine composer in Michel Legrand; Chazelle has Justin Hurwitz, who has been massively nominated and awarded for this outstanding contribution to screen muzak.

Mia is a barista in a movie-lot café and shares an apartment with three other women all seeking to break into movies – shades of Stage Door (1937).  They sing and dance with her, skilfully covering her modest ability, and then they disappear from the movie.  Indeed, there are only a couple of significant supporting roles in the movie, which must be carried almost in its entirety by Gosling and Stone.  J.K. Simmons, whom Chazelle used in Whiplash, makes a brief appearance as a bullying nightclub owner and John Legend is amiably bland as a musician buddy of Sebastian’s.

Fortunately, Gosling and especially Stone are up to the task and if they are only mediocre singers this has not been a problem in many other musicals. Sprechgesang worked very well for Demy in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, one of the inspirations for La La Land.  But on the topic of inspiration, Sara Preciado has produced a compilation of La La Land references :

I’m not sure about Boogie Nights, but you get the drift.

We’re given to understand that Mia is a competent actor; after the usual difficulties she finally gets a breakthrough audition and it’s onward and upward from there. Sebastian’s arrogant devotion to jazz is more problematic however. Is he actually talented? In a nightclub he meets an old friend, Keith (Legend), who urges him to join his modern jazz fusion group. When he finally does so, the group is wildly successful, but it’s obvious that Sebastian is still unsatisfied. We see him performing on stage, playing keyboard with one hand in his pocket. It’s a telling moment, and indeed the music is pretty dull.

I wonder if Chazelle is showing his hand here.  In Whiplash he treats jazz as a higher calling, requiring great personal sacrifice. The jazz club scenes in La La Land are filmed in a highly respectful manner, as if we are expected to think this is the real stuff.  Meanwhile, “Someone in the Crowd”, “Another Day of Sun”, “Waiting for the Call” and “City of Stars” roll by like musical styrofoam.  And if you’ve seen the movie and can’t tell which of those songs doesn’t actually exist, I rest my case.

Despite my reservations, La La Land is a well made film.  The cinematography is expert, the bright production design catches the right mood, and a scene between Sebastian and Mia across a table where they begin to realise their ambitions are forcing them apart brings out the best in Gosling and Stone.  The final scene attempts something prodigious, and almost works.

La La Land is a romantic musical drama that is true enough to itself not to confect a happy ending.  In this genre one thinks of A Star is Born, West Side Story and a number of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, but the ending of La La Land is directly inspired by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

In that film the two lovers, Guy and Geneviève have been forced apart by circumstance, but meet again several years later.  Guy now owns the service station he always dreamed of, and he and his wife and child are getting ready for Christmas; it’s a snowy evening, and Geneviève pulls up to the pumps.  She is now a rich woman, and is accompanied by her daughter – and Guy’s.  They recognise each other, there is an awkward and pained conversation, and she leaves.  Everything that might have been, everything that is lost, drift like the snowflakes in the air between them, as Legrand’s beautiful theme rise on the soundtrack.

When Mia, now a famous actress with her own family, enters the jazz club that Sebastian had dreamed of owning, he is at the piano.  Her looks up and their eyes meet.  He turns to play, and a fantasy sequence begins. It’s reminiscent of the long fantasy sequences in Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, but with a difference. It starts with Sebastien stepping into a movie-set cityscape in which he meets Mia.  The fantasy revisits events from their relationship, but this time the events which ended with them apart end with them staying together. Finally they sit down in the dark together and watch a home movie of their happy domestic life raising a family. There is no Gene Kelly here but the sequence still works. It’s Sebastien’s romantic vision of what might have been had ambition not pulled them apart.

What’s missing is any sense that what they have lost really mattered. It’s”follow your dreams” whatever the cost and there is no cost. At least in Whiplash Chazelle showed that obsessive ambition does have a cost.  In La La Land ambition is endorsed and wrapped in a pretty package, but never questioned.

As she and her husband leave, Mia and Sebastian exchange rueful little smiles – “We both got what we really wanted, too bad about us, right?”.  The ending of Umbrellas is intensely bitter-sweet, that of La La Land is insipid.  Of course it will win the Oscar, because this is the kind of movie the Oscars are for.  Its slickly crafted nostalgia recalls The Artist (2011), a black-and-white silent which also, but less predictably, pleased the Academy.

The movie does have its comic moments, and the musical numbers have their pastel charm, as this clip displays:


Elle (2016)

images-1Directed by Paul Verhoeven.

Verhoeven is a director who achieves commercial success without ever seeming to seek it.  His science fiction movies – Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollowman – display an intelligent enthusiasm for off-beat, frequently violent narratives coupled with a European openness about sexuality.  He can draw fine performances from his actors; Basic Instinct has its flaws, but Sharon Stones’ performance isn’t one of them.  Elle combines Verhoeven’s unique sensibility with an elegantly subversive performance by Isabelle Huppert.

The film opens with a brutal rape scene, much of it shown through reaction shots of a cat.  Michèle Leblanc (Huppert) is attacked by a masked man who bursts through the french windows of her home.  He leaves, and she tidies up the mess impassively; she does not call the police.  Her impassive reaction proves to be an accurate indication of the cool complexity of her character.

Michèle is the co-owner of a video game company with her friend Anna (Anne Consigny).  She is also conducting an affair with Anna’s husband Robert, a demanding and inconsiderate jerk, and it’s not at all clear why, or even if she likes him.  Her video games are of the violent monster variety, exaggerated versions of the violence that’s just been visited on her.  When one of her employees argues aggressively with her in a staff meeting, it seems she is wondering if he might be her attacker.  Despite her apparent self-possession, she is preoccupied with the rape; she arms herself with a pepper spray and take a shooting lesson.  She uses the spray on a man parked outside her house, but it is her ex-husband trying to watch over her.

Early in the film we see a couple who have recently moved in across the street from Michèle, and the husband and Michèle briefly make eye contact.  Verhoeven holds the shot and to me it seemed that he was flagging the man, Patrick (Christian Berkel) as the attacker.  If it was meant as a hint, it was a poor decision, although when it comes, the revelation that Patrick is the attacker actually serves to advance the narrative rather than resolve it.  Elle is not a whodunit.  Michèle, Elle herself, is the mystery.

Before she learns that Patrick is her attacker, she invites him and his wife to a small party in her home where she tells him, and us, a horrifying story from her childhood.

The dissonance between the story and her demeanour in the retelling is not so much shocking as intriguing.  Whatever he tells us or shows us, Verhoeven wants us to keep thinking and wondering.

Michèle is attacked in her home again, but this time she manages to stab her attacker in the hand, and when she later sees Patrick with a bandaged hand she realises he is the rapist.  At this point, Verhoeven takes us further down the rabbit hole.  Michèle doesn’t call the police, reach for her gun or take any other measures against Patrick.  She decides instead to visit her father in prison, only to learn that he has hanged himself in his cell rather than face her.  Driving home, she rolls her car on a country road.  Trapped in the car, she tries unsuccessfully to phone for help, and finally calls Patrick, who comes immediately to rescue her.

The ambiguously sado-masochistic relationship between the two that ensues would test credulity if not for Verhoeven’s skilful, straight-faced narration and Huppert’s marvellously enigmatic performance, constantly suggesting turbulent depths below a smooth, unruffled surface.  She is bound to Patrick by a fascinated attraction  and a deep desire to inflict a vengeful punishment – but her relations with all of the men in her immediate sphere, not only those she suspects of being her attacker, are problematic.

It’s plain that she has no real affection for the demanding, self-centred Robert.  Her business partner Anna, Robert’s wife, is the only character with whom she seems to share real mutuality, and yet she betrays her.  She willingly humiliates the male employee who criticises her in a meeting, sensing the bluster in his aggression.  Her ex-husband is the object of her amused tolerance, and she would like to split her son Vincent from his bullying and selfish girlfriend.  Her battle for her son is predicated on a love that sees him as, and perhaps requires him to be, weak and immature.

Verhoeven says he chose to make Elle in France rather than in America because he would have been pressured to move the narrative toward a more conventional thriller form, perhaps along the lines of Basic Instinct.  He revels in his unpredictability and ambiguity, in his plot lines and in his characters,  The film’s resolution, when it comes, is as satisfying as it is unexpected.


The Handmaiden (2016)

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Directed by Park Chan-Wook.

Based on “Fingersmith”, a 2002 novel by Sarah Walters, Park’s film transfers the setting from Victorian England to Korea under Japanese occupation before WWII.  The book’s themes of class, sexuality and perversion are placed in a colonialist/colonised frame in this rich, exacting psychosexual drama.

Sook-hee (Kim Tae-Ri) is a fingersmith, one of  a group of pickpockets and petty criminals, when she is recruited by “Count Fujiwara” (Ha Jung-woo) to become the handmaiden of the title.  The “Count” is actually a Korean conman.  She is to serve Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), who lives in a mansion with her uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-Woong).  Sook-hee is to take on the name “Tamiko”; the use of Japanese names by all these Korean characters is an index of colonial occupation and also an aspect of the multiple deceptions that unfold throughout the film.

Sook-hee begins to insinuate herself into Hideko’s confidence, but things become complicated as she begins to be sexually attracted to her, the more so as the “innocent”, slightly fey Hideko is engaged in some mysterious activity with her sinister uncle.

Sook-hee and Hideko become lovers, but Fujiwara’s plan to get Hideko’s fortune by getting her to elope with him to Japan requires Sook-hee’s assistance, and she reluctantly complies.

To this point the story is told from Sook-hee’s point of view, and we see characters only as she sees them – the bullying, crooked Fujiwara, the sinister uncle Kouzuki and their victim, Hideko.  The mansion itself is large, dark and oppressive, and there is something more than sinister about the library where Hideko and her uncle meet regularly for reading lessons.  When Sook-hee accompanies Fujiwara and Hideko in their flight to Japan, the plan is to trick Hideko into being admitted to an insane asylum, but it is Sook-hee who is identified as Hideko, seized and hustled away.

At this point the narrative leaps back to Hideko’s childhood, and we learn that Uncle Kouzuki has a massive collection of pornographic books which from time to time he auctions to a group of wealthy customers.  Hideko’s aunt took part in readings of these books before an audience of dinner-suited gentlemen, but she had hanged herself in the garden rather than continue with the activity.  Kozouki then trained Hideko to be his reader, using the threat of taking her down to the basement to force compliance.  We are left to imagine what the basement contains – as good a metaphor of repressed terrors as one could ask, and when we finally see it it lives up to its foreshadowed ghastliness.  The scenes of the auctions, in which Hideous dressed as a geisha and sits in an auditorium in front of silent shadowy figures , lounging and smoking, pretty much invite a thesis on the toxic nature of the male gaze.

The layers of deception accumulate as Fujiwara, a petty criminal and art forger, is employed by Kouzuki to repair some damaged books.  Fujiwara and Hideko develop a plot to wrest control of her inheritance from Kouzuki, a plot that is a little too devious for my understanding, but it entails employing a handmaiden who is to be fooled into assisting in the elopement and then committed to an asylum in Hideko’ place, while Fujiwara and Hideko gain the inheritance.  This plan is derailed when Hideko and Sook-hee fall in love, and the double-crossing of Sook-hee becomes the triple-crossing of Fujiwara.  Just before the elopement, Hideko and Sook-hee wreck Kouzuki’s library, and after her bogus committal  Sook-hee use her fingersmith skills to escape the asylum.

In the end, the happy couple escape with the loot and Fujiwara and Kouzuki give each other a gruesome comeuppance in the basement.  It’s a fruity melodrama, lurid and, despite the complexity of its web of betrayals, lucid. The erotic scenes of lesbian sex work to establish the credibility of the central relationship when every other relationship is duplicitous and exploitative.  As with Oldboy and Stoker, Park’s unswerving commitment to his material however unlikely and bizarre, and his sly black humour carry him over the top.