_ Malle practice
Trevor Johnston talks sense and sensuality with Damage director Louis Malle.
In typically Gallic manner. Louis Mallt smiles indulgently at the problems other nations seem to have with that Oil demon called sex. Adapted from the salaciously bestselling novel by Josephine Han. his latest movie is predicated on the unleashing of a terribly English sort of repression as Jeremy Irons‘ Tory MP falls disastrously for the enigmatic charms of French sex sphinx Juliette Binoche. While he expected a certain amount of tie-loosening in response to Damage on these particular shores. according to the 60—year-old director it‘s actually the Americans who've thus far been the most prudish about the film's steamy central subject. ‘Maybe there are cultural differences I don't quite understand,‘ chuckles Malle. now into his fourth decade as one of France‘s most revered and well-travelled moviemakers, ‘but one of their less sophisticated critics actually wrote about Damage that he didn't know there were so many ways of making love. Just because the characters weren‘t in a bed in the missionary position. it was like sexual yoga to him. A little sad. no‘?’
Indeed. although the US ratings
board‘s dismay at the bare naked grappling between the two stars forced Malle to slightly re-edit the by-now- familiar hands-over-the-eyes lovemaking scene to qualify for the R certificate that would get the film into mainstream cinemas. UK cinemagoers may well find themselves wondering what all the fuss is about. Restrained and dispassionate. Malle‘s film takes a deliberately detached attitude to the potentially melodramatic goings-on within it. Transported to the screen by no less a talent than David Hare. the air of academicism which hovered over his own films Strapless and Paris By Night is by no means absent here. but does prevent some fairly soapy base material from lapsing too far into bathos.
‘It‘s a film of looks, silences, breaths.‘ claims Malle. perhaps ambitiously. ‘We don‘t pretend to explain the psychological behaviour of the characters, we just observe them, so in that sense it‘s quite extreme.’ True.
Damage: ‘restrained and dispassionate’
Damage does avoid the stand-by hokey scene with some earnest psychologist giving Us a rundown on the protagonists‘ sundry aberrations. but it does tread a very thin line between a deep, disturbing truth and the most complete and utter tosh. Stephen Fleming (lrons) is a junior minister set for higher things and has a supportive wife Ingrid (an excellent Miranda Richardson) to stand beside him all the way. yet when he bumps into his journalist son Martyn (Rupert Graves) and the latter‘s French girlfriend Anna (Binoche) at an official reception. he instantly becomes aware of a raw attraction between himself and the young woman. Before long. they're in the midst of a secretive but ecstatically physical affair. and Stephen begins to learn of an emotive side to himself and his punctiliously ordered life that he'd never before imagined existed. Seemingly innured to the family turmoil that might erupt should the
relationship be uncovered. he is to ignore at his peril the dark hints that Anna drops about a disturbed and tragic past.
Having depicted Jeanne Moreau in the throes of the first female on-screen orgasm in 1958’s Les Amants. broached the taboo of incest in Le Souﬂie au Coeur (1971) and wheeled on barely pubescent prostitute Brooke Shields in l978‘s American-made Pretty Baby, Malle is no stranger to the murkier areas of human behaviour. but Damage’s very explicitness is a prime illustration of the difﬁculties of portraying sexual obsession on celluloid. ‘In my successful moments as a filmmaker. l hope I‘ve managed to make the audience forget about the camera.‘ he reflects. ‘but in a sex scene that's almost impossible. I think you inevitably tend to show too much. but in this case it‘s not exactly the joy of sex we‘re showing. The sequences here deal with fear, with pain. with violence. For the Stephen Fleming character there‘s a sense of a liberating kind of explosion amidst his senses, but at the same time the viewer can see from the beginning that it‘s doomed.”
A reactionary. negative view, then? Malle doesn‘t quite think so. ‘People often ask me what‘s the morality of it all. I say the morality is for the viewer to decide and I've had all sorts of reactions. Some people think the relationship is terrible in a crime-does- not-pay kind of way. other people understand that this is something that’s inside all of us. Something we‘ve learned to hide inside so we can live in society. that genetic instinct that leads to the instant gratification of sex.’ Damage opens in Scotland on Friday 26 februan'. A special screening for List readers takes place at the Edinburgh Cameo on Friday I 2 at 11.55pm.
_ Ghez Gillian
First off, a prediction: Gillian Annstrong’s Last Days of Ghez Hous will be one of 1993’s most underrated movies. Wise, autumnal, elegiac, it’s the complex story of a Sydney household peopled by successful novelist Beth (Lisa Harrow) and her French husband JP (Bruno Ganz), and how the arrival of her carefree younger sister Vicky (Kerry Fox, minus the weight she put on for An Angel At My Table) upsets the balance of their relationship. Add In a daughter by another marriage, a teenage Iodger and a crusty old father (Bill Hunter) and you have the makings of another Aussie soap, except that this time it’s pitched at an audience of grown-ups. These are the real-est characters you’ll have seen on screen for a while i - awkward, vulnerable, mercurial - and the movie as a whole is one of those rare occasions when script (an original by Helen Garner), cast and director seem to be chiming in resonant harmony.
‘People would look at the script and say “Oh, that’s easy, just a group of people in a house”,’ reflects director
Armstrong, whose 1979 debut feature My Brilliant Career was one of the finest otferings of a productive decade for the Australian film industry. ‘But actually a lot of work was needed to bring out the subtleties in the characterisation without making it boring. It’s about change as a painful emotional experience that makes you reassess your life and
come out of it in a positive way. I think : it’s very truthful in a complicated way,
; but it’s definitely not the sort of film
you can sum up in a one-iiner.’
Suffice it to say that Bruno Ganz is i
God and that the movie itself marks a welcome return to form for a talented
filmmaker whose efforts at cracking :
Hollywood (with the Mel Gibson/Diane Keaton picture Mrs Soffel and the barely released Greta Scacchi flick Fires Within) have for too long taken her away from the home ground where, i as she’ll admit herself, she tends to do
; her best stuff. ‘Australia,’ she sighs,
‘is a place where it’s all about the
work and making the film better. it’s a
great place for creative freedom. And i
no money.’ (Trevor Johnston)
The Last Days at Che: Hous opens at i
the Glasgow Flim Theatre on Sunday 1 21 February. ' i
l February NW 19