Tuesday, June 23, 2009

the courtesan’s lot

skimming on a razor thin edge of the hooker with a heart of gold construct, the just ended sydney film festival delivered not one but two distinctly different but equally powerful films which explored with pathos the double edged sword that courtesans gracefully glide over when the worlds of business & pleasure collide. these two films were: the girlfriend experience [dir. steven soderbergh] and chéri [dir. stephen frears].

both films arguably delivered in a poignantly rich but cold environment the knowing detachment that is the pragmatic prostitute condition when regarding men in a contractual mode. this attitude inexplicably bleeds subtlely into the personal too. true romance comes at a price.

it is not the protagonists; cheri’s lea de lonval [michelle pfeiffer] or GFE’s shades of brett easton ellis’s patrick bateman, chelsea/christine [sasha grey] who are vapid or lacking in dimension: it is fundamentally their superficial relationship with their environment that the chilling separation stems from. like passing ships in the night they cannot afford to let the water breach their well-oiled duck's back seals. in the game of seduction it is dangerous to fall in love. there is an undeniable conflict of interest: the cost [financial & emotional] is high.

stylistically distinct and separated by timeframes/locations [chéri is set in early 20th century belle époque paris, whereas the girlfriend experience explores the wall street centric world pre-obama election win] both films deliver a visually stunning mixed bag of budget & cinematography style ranging from artistic verité, to jumbled chronological cuts, to classically choreographed mise en scène.

the two films are nonetheless so closely aligned thematically & similarly charged dealing with the emotional bankruptcy which ironically occurs in a world which is swathed in textural wealth. to the unfortunate detriment & decline of the women involved, there are no greater trade-offs. more often than not, the career choice, their life gamble, does not pay-off. winners of material fortune yet losers of idealism, despite being well-versed in the artifices of love. forearmed with this knowledge they still seek the impossible realm. for this reason, no other, they are fallen.

the men, clients/lovers, in both stories are rather inconsequential. their overshadowed almost caricatured weak identities lie where they must remain purely to illustrate their constant misdirected drain under another guise. the women’s alienation & strong internalisation renders the outside almost obsolete but at the same time the choice of the male characters illustrates the vulnerability and reality check that superwomen need not necessarily fall in love with supermen. they’re just "regular" guys with their own set of flaws. as are the women fundamentally.

these stories ultimately belong to the brave travellers who are the solo warrior women who dare battle in a loveless & socially misunderstood terrain. paradise is lost. beneath the polished veneer of nonchalance lies dire fragility & emotional heartache. like pandora’s box, it will probably one day be opened again.

love is the drug not even the artisans and purveyors of can avoid indulging in. they say one should never buy their own wares. it would seem in love we all want to believe. noone is immune. and nor should they be denied.

as lea de lonval says,"i'm probably making a fool of myself... but then again, why not? life is short!

both these films are extremely moving and compelling. they spoke to me and i hope others too in a way that realistically captures the dilemma which faces the much maligned woman of the night. she deserves to be humanised & allowed to stand basking in the light of her social achievements.

the greatest tragedy of the archetypal heroine, the tart with a heart, is the success of her projected illusion of happiness & glamorised independence. ultimately the greatest fear must be the reality of being completely alone.

[NB.all images are copyrighted to the relevant film productions]

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