Indies on DVD —" Chloe," released this week, is a deliciously dark erotic thriller charged by an electrifying cast.
This is director Atom Egoyan's first film that he did not write himself (the screenplay is by Erin Cressida Wilson and is based on the 2003 French film "Nathalie"). The story follows wealthy, insecure gynecologist Catherine (Julianne Moore), who suspects that her emotionally distant college professor husband, David (Liam Neeson), might be cheating on her.
So she does what any level-headed suspicious wife would do — hires pretty, young prostitute Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce her husband to see if he will fall for the bait.
Understandably, things get messy when he does, and Chloe tells Catherine about their exploits in frank detail. Catherine soon becomes obsessed with hearing about these meetings, as a way of living out an affair — with her husband — through Chloe.
Perhaps she's just becoming obsessed with Chloe. Or is it the other way around?
It's a twisty tale, fueled by fine acting from Moore (who, at close to 50, still is not shy about baring skin). We watch Catherine unravel, as she grapples with guilt, betrayal and sexual identity.
The nice surprise of the film, though, is Seyfried, who has been mostly known for leads in frothy, romantic material ("Mamma Mia!," "Letters to Juliet," "Dear John"). She goes about-face here in a daring performance (she's not shy about revealing more than an elbow, either) with an alluring, conniving and sometimes desperate presence.
"White" noise — Austrian director Michael Haneke (pronounced Mik-hail Hahn-uh-kuh) is known for his boldly minimalist style.
His films have studied senseless violence ("Funny Games"), repressed sexuality ("The Piano Teacher") and societal paranoia ("Cache").
I haven't always liked his stories, but I find his filmmaking fascinating. His movies are quietly intense, marked by deliberate pacing and little musical score. Haneke's films also use long takes — which gives scenes an unnerving realism — usually with a stationary camera.
So I was intrigued when his latest, " The White Ribbon," won the prestigious Golden Palm award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival in France. Since I had a better chance of actually being French than I did of going to Cannes, I patiently waited for the film to come to Wichita.
It never did, although it was a nominee for best foreign language film at this year's Academy Awards. It's finally out on DVD (with English subtitles), and I took the opportunity to see it.
Despite the film's many accolades and mostly rave reviews on rottentomatoes.com (where it scored an 85 percent rating), I can't say that I liked it.
I found it confusing, with a slowly unfolding narrative that involves many characters (who look a lot alike) in a strange mystery.
Taking place in a small Protestant village in north Germany just before World War I, the story follows its citizens as they try to uncover the culprits of a series of bizarre incidents. At the core is a group of creepy kids who may be the victims or the perpetrators. Their strict parents try to maintain order with harsh punishment, as a schoolteacher tries to maintain peaceful middle ground.
Even though the film frustrated me, I found parts intriguing. Visually, it's gorgeous, shot in stark black-and-white (Christian Berger received an Oscar nomination for his cinematography).
And I loved the film's sense of place. Doom hangs in the air like low-flying clouds, and the expansive farm fields seem to go on forever yet are claustrophobic at the same time.
But the story is so symbolic that we don't really care about the characters — they are just pawns to serve the bigger "message" (something about oppression and totalitarianism).
Haneke remains an interesting director. But "The White Ribbon" left me feeling as empty as its farmlands.