The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

An ongoing project to survey the best films of individual decades, genres, and filmmakers.
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therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#726 Post by therewillbeblus » Thu Dec 07, 2023 5:28 pm

La Chair de l'orchidée (Patrice Chéreau, 1975): This isn’t clearly revealed as a quasi-sequel to the novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish until past its halfway mark, but its acerbic content and generally weird vibe fits. Such perversity functions much better in the 70s where structure can be subverted into a more ambient, less direct approach. What begins as a kind of road movie-slash-offbeat lovers-on-the-run tale peters out quickly due to the deranged mechanics that bind the dissonant mentally-atypical characters and obstruct that narrative potential with isolating systems. In the 40s, including within its British prequel, this would be read as a traditional noir device: the evil forces restraining the protagonists, etc. But this curio has a different agenda. The economic pacing lends itself well to an elastic strategy of world-building that leans into eccentric moments on its way to form a familiar skeleton. The details make the movie, and are given space to breathe due to the playful and witty choices around narrative withholding. Something like repeated knife violence becomes a kind of dry running joke (in spite of the running reason for Rampling's particular defensive violence..) like many of the brutal and strange ventures portrayed, where noir concepts of being trapped in nightmarish scenarios are devalued and transcended by a tone of jeering absurdity.

Rampling’s enigmatic center exudes this energy, applying her own internal logic from an objective distance to keep things rash and off balance, and sometimes a bit silly, even when urgent. Cremer’s character is almost boring in his normalcy comparative to the other players, but his ‘human yo-yo’ responses to tribulations, and the people he chooses to associate with, highlight something deeply troubled and disquieting about him as well - sitting in bed smiling, yielding to a situation he doesn't understand nor really care to (after being invested and determined in scenes just prior??) He disappears for a while, as if the film matches his energy and deviates to more interesting but not always 'important' dynamics in the interim, but when we return to him it's clear that he's the ultimate satirical caricature of a noir protagonist - totally surrendered to an inescapable fate and immobilized with defeated acceptance. All he can say is "that was absurd" and "a silly boy, turned into a man" and "you can't help me" with little affect. It's pathetic and treated as such, finally receiving the sole destiny available to his mental scope, with the swift discarding earned by this attitude and worldview.

I admire a film that begins with a non-dreamy, raw examination of cruel abuse that mirrors our own reality, and then seamlessly transitions into gonzo introductions of devices and behavior that reveal an entirely different world operating under alternative rules. It’s a lot like the mean-spirit Hobbesian attitude of its predecessor only fleshed out more and afforded a deft touch of consciousness to the material’s potential for exaggeration and embellishment. The film wisely exists on a plane between comic antisocial insanity and existential threats of forced containment propagated by those boasting the upper hand of a power imbalance - except, because the idiosyncratic “innocents” are just as wildly unpredictable or curiously complacent, respectively, as the key villains can erratically be, the sense of fatalism feels less concrete; the power imbalance can shift back when your target captives aren’t playing by even your milieu’s bonkers schema. Hans Christian Blech and François Simon are hilarious as the quirky duo of criminal brothers musing on random emotional vulnerabilities in between their cartoonish sinister activity. I wish they were more present throughout, particularly in the back half.

So this was pretty fun. If I gave an overview of the plot, it's pretty standard stuff, but the atmosphere is not noir while the contents wrestle with noir vehicles and attitudes, but ultimately spring free - just like Rampling's insane, resilient heroine whose mission is to break free of the chains imposed upon her. I think the tinkering with conventions makes this a more intelligent picture than it appears to be. Some are more obvious implementations of rebellion and sabotage vis bizarre detours and atmospheric caprice, while others are serpentine and oblique. The denouement is hysterical in its dark macabre, unprompted inserts of information, proving Cremer’s ideas of fatalism wrong for the principal who can envision another way. It's fantastical, almost an invisible proposition of a crazy person willing their worldview and succeeding, or a devolution from the rules of noir and fate into the absurdity of chance, but it works either way. If one wants to only respond to its superficial pleasures, that's fine, but they can be elevated by a critical engagement with genre devices and the illusory condition of constraints. In such a loopy, faux-restrictive world of self-imposed determinism, is it advantageous to be abnormal?

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