LONDON: ‘Chloe,’ ‘Leaving’

Posted by · 4:38 pm · October 23rd, 2009

Julianne Moore in ChloeI realize I’ve dropped the ball somewhat with my festival updates — between the to-and-fro of festival business, other writing tasks and the occasional impulse to have a personal life, a backlog longer than I care to count has accumulated of films yet to be discussed. Expect that to be partially rectified over a quieter weekend … even if I resort to “100 words or less” games.

However, once more a pair of films seen in relatively close succession demand to be reviewed together. Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe” and Catherine Corsini’s French-language “Leaving” overlap in a number of ways.

Both are slickly accessible thrillers revolving around marital infidelity, both use that as cover for a less mainstream investigation of middle-aged female sexuality, and both are anchored by formidable actresses — Julianne Moore and Kristin Scott Thomas, respectively — in full possession of their powers.

Beyond that, of course, they run in wildly divergent stylistic and narrative directions — neither with complete success, but both serving as loving showcases for performers that Hollywood wouldn’t dream of building a project around anymore. Add “I Am Love,” the very similarly themed (and similarly spotty) Tilda Swinton vehicle from Venice, to the mix, and something is plainly afoot for older women in the arthouse.

Even as I write that, however, I must acknowledge that “Chloe” (**1/2) enjoys only the most tenuous grip on the term “arthouse.” Not so much glossy as lacquered in its production sheen, Egoyan’s film sporadically aims for the sensual adventurousness of “Exotica” or “Where the Truth Lies” — principally in a raunchier-than-standard same-sex love scene that should prove its principal public talking-point — but grows fluffier as the narrative, hewing closely to the template provided by Anne Fontaine’s 2003 “Nathalie…,” unfolds.

Moore plays Catherine, a successful gynaecologist grown distant from her academic husband (Liam Neeson), and tormented by suspicions of his infidelity. She acts on them by hiring young escort Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to lead him into temptation, then gradually loses grip on the situation as Chloe pushes her own carnal buttons. Following an insufficiently disguised twist, the film dives headlong into Adrian Lyne territory, channeling the knowing pulp of “Fatal Attraction” and “Unfaithful” in both plot and presentation, but punishing its heroine to an absurd degree for her curiosity.

The film’s moral hypocrisies may leave a sour taste, but Moore remarkably holds the enterprise together with her most empathetic and emotionally cohesive turn in years, making more sense of Catherine’s  bold behavioral leaps than the script does. She’s presented a little too pristinely for a woman who supposedly struggles with self-image, but she’s persistently fascinating to watch.

In contrast, “Leaving” (***) affords its protagonist even more ludicrous decisions than “Chloe” does, but has the admirable assuredness to present them as blunt realism. Starkly literary in form (Gustave Flaubert could have written this story in the 19th century without having to alter much more than the clothes), the film’s set-up — posh housewife leaves cold husband for swarthy blue-collar, complications ensue — makes an elegant virtue of its simplicity, pulling the focus entirely onto, and inside, the deluded woman at its center.

As her behavior devolves from the selfish to the desperate to the rivetingly unhinged, “Leaving” grants Scott Thomas considerably more room to flex and roar than the more disciplined showcase of “I’ve Loved You So Long” last year, and it’s a thrill to see her surrender to her character’s extremities.

The performance is never broad, however, and minute details of eye contact and expression serve to remind us that, with age, the actress has acquired one of the great screen faces. Intelligent if a touch dry in conception and execution, “Leaving” depends on Kristin Scott Thomas for its danger and its class, but at least it knows its strengths.

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13 responses so far

  • 1 10-23-2009 at 8:26 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    God Guy don’t do this to me. I was so bummed when KST got no love for I’ve Loved You So Long. Now it seems she’s better in Partir/Leaving and I know she won’t be nominated. What does she have to do to get some love from American Awards?

  • 2 10-23-2009 at 8:57 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “The English Patient.”

  • 3 10-24-2009 at 12:19 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    She’s not better in “Leaving.” It just makes different demands of her.

  • 4 10-24-2009 at 1:23 am

    jess said...

    Glad to see Scott-Thomas being praised. She will be back on awards’ list with The Seagull, make no mistake about that.

    Moore is a lock in supporting for A Single Man but she’s also getting good reviews for Chloe and Pippa Lee. The people who had buried her too soon must be eating their hats now

  • 5 10-24-2009 at 3:30 am

    slayton said...

    Not at all related, Guy, but I was wondering if you’d seen Jorge Gaggero’s really good “Live-in Maid”? It is gorgeously intimate, very well-written and the principal performances are amazing (especially Aleandro, imo). The ending shot is perfect.

  • 6 10-24-2009 at 5:52 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Jess: I’d hardly call Moore a “lock” for “A Single Man.” Right now, I don’t even think she’ll get in, personally. It’s a small, mannered performance, and the category is crowded.

    Slayton: Haven’t seen it, so thanks for the tip. Norma Aleandro is such a marvellous actress.

  • 7 10-24-2009 at 6:16 am

    slayton said...

    Aleandro’s performance in the film is interesting in that she is given a character that most actors would be tempted to play for broad farce. She clearly realizes that her character is funny simply because of what she is – a rather materialistic, petty, delusional woman desperately holding on to the past. She doesn’t force the comic side of the character and lets the woman she’s playing develop different emotional facets and shades. The result is both very funny and very moving.

    Norma Argentina as her live-in maid is also very good, although I think the excessive critical praise she received was merely a response to her curious real-life connection to the role (she herself was a maid for 30 years) instead of to the calibre of her performance. She’s very good, and she does more with sheer presence than Aleandro, but she really can’t compete with her co-star. Still, both actresses work wonders together.

  • 8 10-24-2009 at 6:19 am

    John H. Foote said...

    Guy — did the ending of Chloe, (SPOILERS DON’T READ!!) that final shot that reveals something Moore is wearing not provoke laughter in the theatre? It sure did in Toronto at the fest — interesting film till that moment — Seyfried was exceptional I thought.

  • 9 10-24-2009 at 6:42 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Can’t say I noticed much laughter at that shot, John — I wasn’t that bothered by it myself. (Was Egoyan going for Ophuls-like symbolism over the object there? I wonder.) The window scene provoked more snickers, actually.

    Seyfried is rather good in it, I agree — and almost distractingly beautiful, which I’ve never found her. But for me, it was Moore’s showcase.

  • 10 10-24-2009 at 7:00 am

    Pat said...

    Umm…Chloe is actually a remake of “Nathalie”… And the final shot didn’t receive collective laughter at TIFF. I don’t know what screening you were at. If anything, there was a collective gasp.

  • 11 10-24-2009 at 7:14 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Chloe is actually a remake of “Nathalie” … ”

    As I acknowledge in the article…

  • 12 10-24-2009 at 7:54 am

    Pat said...

    Sorry. When you said the film “…grows fluffier as the narrative, hewing closely to that of Anne Fontaine’s 2003 “Nathalie…,” unfolds”, I interpreted that as a criticism for the film’s resemblance to the original.

  • 13 10-24-2009 at 8:10 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Oh, I see how the phrasing is misleading there. Will reword. Thanks.