Laura – 88 min, thriller

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Gene Tierney and Vincent Price as Laura and Shelby Carpenter in ‘Laura’, directed by Otto Preminger.

When discussing Film Noir it never takes long for the term femme fatale to come up. The idea of a woman who through duplicity and self-interest destroys the men who love her has always held particular sway in the genre, and one might think that the titular Laura in Otto Preminger’s 1944 film fits the archetype. But what makes Laura so special is that actually she is a woman surrounded by fatal men. Men so fatal in fact, that when the movie opens she is already dead. It is a bold thing to kill off your main character as soon as the opening credits finish rolling, and Gene Tierney, who was cast as Laura, quipped in her autobiography: “Who wants to play a painting?” (TCM, Laura Article) in reference to the large portrait looming over the living room of Laura’s fashionable New York City apartment. Still it is the flesh and blood woman, rather than her ghostly portrait, that in the end the movie is concerned with. Continue reading

Dirty Pretty Things – 97 min, thriller

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Chiwetel Ejiofor in Dirty Pretty things

Few movies have been done as great a disservice by their poster as Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things. On it a naked Audrey Tautou emerges from the poorly airbrushed shadows, below her the title is playfully spelled out in colorful cut-out letters that belong on the poster of a teen rom-com, and above the tagline reads, “Some things are too dangerous to keep secret.” What in the world is this film selling? Surely a dark comedy about the kidnapping of a high-class call girl, or a Sapphic horror story set in an elite girl’s school dirtyprettywhere the beautiful new French teacher turns out to be a witch. Even “The provocative new thriller from the director of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and ‘The Grifters’” at the bottom drips with sex. When asked about the poster in an interview Tautou seemed genuinely perplexed, “I don’t know the culture here, so I don’t know if it’s a good poster in this country, or not. But when I saw it I was a bit surprised. […] I’m not a publicist. I don’t know what works. But that’s not the movie, not really.” (Carlo Cavagna, AboutFilm.com Aug 2003) She was confused because her character, Senay, is a virginal Turkish refugee, who illegally works as a chambermaid in a London hotel; she isn’t even the main character. Of course there was a rationale behind marketing the film this way, Dirty Pretty Things was one of Audrey Tautou’s first roles after her star-making turn in Amelie, and it was her only English-speaking one. The real star of the film was Chiwetel Ejiofor, who even now as an Oscar Nominee doesn’t headline films on his own, and back in 2003 was only known in London theater circles. Tautou was the recognizable face in a cast of unknowns. And the plot? Dirty Pretty Things is a thriller about the marginalization of the people clinging to the edges of society, the immigrants and refugees trying to scrape by in London without officially existing. Well, that and the illegal trade of organs on the black market. It’s no wonder that the marketing people threw up their hands and said, “Sex and Amelie! Done.” Which is shame because Dirty Pretty Things is an incredible film. Continue reading