In The Cut

Much maligned when released but now reappraised. Quite right, too. I love Mark Ruffalo, both generally and in this. He's so wonderfully caring, charming and sweet. Howevermuch the film tries to put him in the frame as a suspect, it can never really pull it off. This dude is sound as a pound, and can also really look after a lady in the bedroom department. I was a lot more suspicious of Kevin Bacon, who puts in a marvellous (and rather funny) performance as the neurotic, love-sick stalker. Meg Ryan also does wonderful and brave work, doing something very different from what she is known for. In her famous romantic comedies Ryan keeps her emotions on the surface, but here Frannie keeps a mask on when navigating the thrills and dangers of New York City.

The conceit of the film is how we misinterpret what we see. Frannie thinks she sees Molloy at the beginning of the film, and by the end suspects him of being a serial killer. Campion opens her film with Frannie mistaking the falling blossoms outside her window as snow from a dream, a knowing nod to this theme. But the more potent symbol is the association made between Frannie's father, who seduces and leaves a string of women and children behind him, and the serial killer, who's signature is an engagement ring. Frannie romantic vision of her father proposing to her mother is linked to the brutal murders in the film. Campion turns marriage into a sick fetish, and has Frannie dispatch both the serial killer, and the myth she has built up of her father, at the end.

In contrast to all that we have the sexually exciting but mysterious and possibly dangerous Molloy. The film reveals that he is divorced, but sleeps on the couch in his ex-wife's place so he can help with the kids. Marriage is not a fetish for him – the relationship didn't work and he got a divorce. But he's also responsible. The mother of his kids needs help and he sticks around to provide it. He doesn't promise Frannie anything but a good time, and even then he keeps getting distracted by the case and trying to stop the killer before more girls get the chop.

Campion is less explicit about this, but her film is playing around and reversing some of the gender dynamics of the erotic noir genre. A woman is the protagonist, the men are the femme fatales. The film centres Frannie's desires in what are quite naturalistic and low-key lovemaking scenes. The film twists the male gaze into something sinister – often shooting Ryan on the streets as if she's being stalked. Frannie's closest relationship is with her sister, who is less reserved about loving too much. Their friendship is a powerful testament to female solidarity in the face of unlucky love affairs and the perils and disappointments of dating in the big city – something that the wedding-obsessed serial killer also ruins.

The film was shot entirely on location in New York, and looks magnificent. The mise-en-scene in the indoor locations is very ornate and crafted – candles, medallions, scraps of paper stuck on the walls. The camerawork is impressionistic. The pressures of the shoot meant some parts were shot quite quickly, with not a lot of thought applied to framing and blocking. But the unsteady camera and dodgy focus works to unsettle our expectations, not least about what happens next. The lack of precision also meant the actors had a bit more freedom to just inhabit the space – their performances were probably better for it. Basically this is a brilliant, unusual and quite beautiful piece of work. It's a shame it wasn't considered as such when it came out 20 years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment