Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Claire Dolan Is a Hard Sell

Claire Dolan is a moving picture that aspires to be a still life. The story of Claire, an Irish immigrant working as a mid-priced call girl, it is chilly, it is lovely to look at, and it smacks of the nihilism that sinks the worst of modern French cinema, though it was filmed in the US.

It also suffers from a bad case of the filmschool blues: shot mostly through windows and doors, its script buckles under the weight of That Which Is Not Said, not to mention the dogged insistence that Everyone Is Complicated. (Even Claire's potential savior boyfriend turns out to be a bit of a stalker.) We know Claire's mother dies but not why she feels compelled to lie about it; we know Claire owes money but not for what; we know that her pimp and loanshark is someone she's known since Ireland but not how; we know that she has many different IDs but not why that's necessary; and slowly, slowly we learn that we will never learn why. These are not people who don't understand themselves so much as marionettes led by a puppeteer who doesn't subscribe to the very notion of emotional legibility. There are wonderful moments buried in Claire Dolan — Claire's ragged, raw hunger scaring off a woman at a newstand, her cool verbal disemboweling of two potential rapists — but they are lodged few and far between the misfires that comprise most scenes.

In the q and a, Ebert pronounced director Lodge Kerrigan as a personal "hero" who makes only the films he wants to make the way he wants to make them. Kerrigan himself proved long-faced and kindly — a stark contrast to his films that only underscored how philosophically rather than personally he he perceives creation. "Most people overemphasize individualism," he said. "I think of human beings more in terms of their species." Interesting, especially given the isolating, claustrophobic urban depictions found in all his films. Does that amount to a negative perception of the species overall?

He also talked at length about how women tend to be viewed as either mothers or prostitutes but rarely both. Perhaps his own isolation from the human species is a bit too complete if he considered this a revelation: the sound of women in the audience rolling their eyes grew practically audible, and one posed a far more original question: "So are most men either pimps or johns?" Frankly, I would never expect every film about a prostitute to offer a feminist interpretation of her life, but once Kerrigan opened that door conversationally I wish he'd had more compelling things to say.

Ideally, a film meets its audience halfway. Even an era in which most mainstream indie and Hollywood fare panders to audiences by overstating themselves doesn't excuse a film that, through its symbolism and plotting, scorns the very concept of audiences or collectives of any sort. Here's another theory about this particular species: It is human nature to want to ascribe meaning to the stories we are told, and when we experience frustration at how much work that takes, sometimes, as in the case of this film, that frustration is warranted.


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