Sunday, April 17, 2011
Maybe I don't look at enough movie review websites and blogs but despite all the people out there commenting on this or that film, some movies still seem to slip through the cracks, work singular enough to make you ask "Hey, how come nobody else has noticed this movie yet?".
That applies to a title I just discovered, Rage, a 2009 film by British filmmaker Sally Potter. Potter is not that prolific at making features and her most well-known film, Orlando, came out back in 1992 so that may account for some of the neglect. Also the film actually seems to have premiered on digital platforms, like cellphones, and as far as I can tell, has had limited theatrical distribution. Still it did make it out onto DVD where I saw it and found it very striking.
The setup for the film is a student interviewing various people at a fashion show over the course of a week for a school project. These people include all the types you would think of, models, the dress designer, a photographer, publicists, the owner of the fashion house, his bodyguard, a newspaper critic and others but their behavior changes drastically when a model dies onstage in the middle of the show.
This movie is put together as minimally as possible. It's just each character answering questions individually in front of a blue screen. None of the actors interact with one another and we only know what else is going on from offscreen noises and their descriptions. By design then, what you get is a compelling set of performances by various actors that are intercut to tell a somewhat ambiguous but engrossing story. The photographer, played by Steve Buscemi, is a veteran war correspondent who boasts about keeping his cool in the face of death. The original owner of the fashion house, played by Dianne Wiest, comes off initially passive but eventually angry at the way her place is now run. One model, played by Lily Cole, is a frightened babyfaced British girl. The other, played by Jude Law in drag (!), does the cool supermodel thing but starts to slip her reserve when things go bad. The owner, played by Eddie Izzard, is an oily, "I can buy anything" type and so on. Most of the acting, by a cast that also includes Judi Dench, Bob Balaban and John Leguizamo, is very good and gets beyond the obvious stereotypes. Only a slick-dressing black police detective, played by David Oyelowo, really flirts with caricature.
The film is not just a swipe at the fashion industry but a more incisive look at how people cope with crisis, whether it's fear, "what's in it for me" calculation, or denial. Stripping away everything but the acting really drives this home. There are ambiguities and unanswered questions in the plot but this is one of those films where that really isn't important. Rage is an unusual experiment in film making that stays with you as a deep look into human behaviour.