Friday, September 24, 2010

LEFT BANK (2008)

Recommended by the ever-reliable Emma Blackwood, this Belgian import brings the atmosphere and creepiness, indeed. It's tough to discuss it without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that adorers of WICKER MAN and ROSEMARY'S BABY will have reason to smile.

Elina Kuppens is solid gold as Marie, a young athlete whose burgeoning track career is postponed by exhaustion and injury. Since running had apparently been her life, she chooses to fill the void with another athlete, an archer named Bobby who lives on the Left Bank of Antwerp. After moving into his apartment, Marie uncovers sinister secrets about the apartment's previous tenant and the building itself. And her body starts falling apart even faster.

This is an extremely well-written and well-shot film. The beauty of the Belgian landscape stands in strong contrast to the malevolence at work inside the Left Bank building. Director Pieter Van Hees conjures strong imagery and masterfully mixes scares, surreal episodes, and more conventional scenes. The writing is without flaw, as LEFT BANK builds and builds to its conclusion with no missteps and without resorting to needless jump-scares or other shopworn tricks of the fright trade.

And those actors! I'm definitely going to invest some time into seeing more work from this cast, ESPECIALLY Elina Kuppens. While other actors might play Marie as a little too self-involved, she handles the character perfectly. When she says that, essentially, she won't be happy with second best, it's a moment that could lose audience sympathy. And yet we never dislike Marie and feel more & more apprehensive as she gets dragged deeper into danger.

This is, among other things, a movie about bodies. Not necessarily in the Cronenberg way, although there is some squishiness here, at least for a boy who grew up Baptist like me. But Marie, when we meet her, is living solely on the strength of her body. When that's taken away, she immediately turns to another body (Bobby). Sexuality shows up every day in this film, both in terms of the frequent congress with Bobby as well in his opposite number, the scholarly Dirk (who flubs his shot at physical interaction with Marie).

The Emma Blackwood review pointed at the other major theme that caught my interest: the independence or dependence of women. Marie is clearly a self-sufficient figure, not the typical scream queen who faints at shadows or can't open pickle jars. She's a very gifted athlete who (we're told) rarely socializes. Her major problems begin when she begins a relationship with Bobby. Most of the other women in the film don't have male counterparts: Marie's mom is a divorcee (who said that it didn't work because her husband couldn't stand strong women); the neighbor in Left Bank is apparently raising her daughter solo; and Bobby's grandmother has no grandfather that we see. Relationships, it's hinted, correlate with problems: Dirk's girlfriend vanished under mysterious circumstances. Feminist horror scholars, all two of them, will find many bones to dig in this film.

An exceptional film that would probably be less overlooked if it came out of Britain or France. I'd be very surprised and saddened if word of mouth didn't garner it a reputation. #2 of 31.

No comments: