Monday, 25 October 2010

LFF #3: In Your Hands (Lola Doillon, 2010)

Kristin Scott Thomas is the sort of actress who warrants the price of a ticket. In a world where movie 'stars' are becoming less important next to franchises and spin-offs, character actors are raising the stakes of independent/foreign moviegoing. While looking through the LFF guide I was drawn to In Your Hands not by the plot or any rave reviews, but by the fact that this fine actress was in it. I was equally sold on the French comedy/drama Copacabana (Marc Fitoussi, 2010) due to the presence of Isabelle Huppert. Have the tables turned? Have the mainstream masses become detached from a Tom Cruise headlined movie while the cinephiles are being drawn out by talent present on a poster? I don't think it's got that far yet, but we're on the way...

Having said all of this, I'm sad to report that In Your Hands is something of a disappointment. Not because of Thomas - she's brilliant in the role of Anna, a surgeon who is kidnapped by a man (Pio Marmaï) who claims to have a grudge against her. What has she done? Should we side with the victim or the kidnapper? This is the question the film wants you to ask as a dangerous love story unfolds in a darkened room. Sadly it's not as psychologically complex as it would like to think and Doillon's choice to elicit quiet rage and confusion from the enclosed setting, rather than claustrophobia and fear, is a big problem. In fact, the film fails from a real lack of cinematic ambition and a seemingly lacking sense of space. I have numerous problems with Panic Room (David Fincher, 2002) but a sense of claustrophobia and menace is not one of them. Although Thomas does her best with the material, the material never supports her. The biggest problem is that the film never decides whether it wants to be a drama or a thriller, and it musters neither enough psychology or tension to qualify as either. As the sporadic conversations between captive and captor become more frequent the film decides to shift toward drama and Anna becomes attracted to her kidnapper. This isn't believable for two reasons. One is that Marmaï fails to register any presence in a role that requires a less typically handsome actor. A weariness or desperation is needed for the role, if not a simmering rage. But Marmaï, who looks like he's just walked off the catwalk, delivers a one-note performance not sufficiently fleshing out an awkwardly scripted role. It's also unbelievable because of the resentment the characters hold for each other and the fact that the film - slow and observational as it is - drops no hints of an evolving relationship. It's an abrupt development that hasn't earned its presence in what should have been, and is being marketed as, a tight thriller.

As aforementioned the film is really doomed by Doillon in her decision to shoot the film as more of a stage play than a taut, cinematic two-hander. There isn't a memorable shot in the film. The beauty of cinema, in terms of these sorts of films, is that you can use the camera to manipulate space. Tools such as lighting, editing and music can create atmosphere and emotion. But Doillon simply places her camera in the middle of a dull room and watches the actors as they occasionally speak their lines. There's absolutely nothing to stop this being put on stage and still being boring. Even when the film ventures outside of the room it's unadventurous, using simple shot structures and editing to no effect. The film threatens to get interesting as Anna tracks down her kidnapper after her escape, but then it just ends. As if everyone just gave up on every idea going, the film cuts to black, exhausted of its potential. Outside of Thomas' fractured performance there's very little to recommend about In Your Hands. It's a disappointment in just about every department and if you want to see one of the best actresses working today on really commanding form, watch I've Loved You So Long (Philippe Claudel, 2008). Because that's brilliant.

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