Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hélène Fillières' TIED goes after the entitled rich, their sexual quirks and especially how they 'love'

For her first try at directing and adapting (from the novel by Régis Jauffret) a full-length feature, the oft-seen French actress Hélène Fillières (below) has chosen a subject -- the S&M affair between a call girl and one of the world's wealthiest bankers -- that fairly reeks with timeliness and schadenfreude. That Ms Fillières then turns her film into a genuine and deeply "felt" character study is surprise enough. That she does it so briskly (it lasts but 80 minutes), yet does not seem to stint on particulars, is even more impressive.

The original French title of the not-so-hot-but-plenty-obvious American moniker, TIED, was Une histoire d'amour (or simply A Love Story). This is obviously a lot more ironic, but it is also more truthful and less S&M-ey. Ms. Fillières has given the film a kind of backward movement that begins almost at the end, then returns us to the beginning and leads us, via short scenes that alternate between present and past until the two are brought together quite strikingly and beautifully at an airport. (The novel may have done this, too; I haven't read it.) If you are someone who has not watched movies over the past couple of decades, you might find yourself flummoxed by the sharp transitions and constant movement from past to present and back. For those of us who see a lot of films, however, Tied is a fine example of how to tell a story with near-immaculate economy and style.

Tied is also quite psychologically astute. And -- wow -- is it well cast! The great and remarkably versatile Belgian actor Benoît Poelvoorde (above, right: see Coco Before Chanel, Romantics Anonymous, My Worst Nightmare and now this one for a taste of that versatility) plays the banker. He is superb at showing us the inability of this man, no matter how hard he tries, to connect with anything like real feeling for others. But, oh boy, does his narcissism and entitlement come through strong and clear. His need to be in the power position no matter what -- except when he engages in sex -- is fully exhibited. How he meets his new "girl" and immediately begins insulting her until she slaps him, and how the insults and slaps continue until it is clear what he wants and needs -- this is one amazing little scene that gives us "how this all began" without the usual (and in this case needless) exposition.

The role of the woman is played by an increasingly interesting actress, Laetitia Casta (Gainsbourg, War of the Buttons, Arbitrage), also versatile and quite beautiful. Ms Casta proves the perfect foil for the Poelvoorde's character: weak when he is strong but definitely in charge sexually. The past-to-present scenes that build the story also build her character until we understand and, in fact, know what she must do.

The "look" of the film is sleek and monied, as befits our wealthy banker, who has his own shooting range in his basement (above). The film has almost no subsidiary characters, save our heroine's combo friend/mentor/
maybe husband (the fine Richard Bohringer) who's got a nifty black cat on constant display; and a small but wonderful role, well played by Reda Kateb, as the man sitting in the girl's row on the airplane.

This airplane scene, which we see in tiny increments that build to something lovely and sad, is pivotal and so beautifully done -- showing us what might have been possible had her life taken a different direction.

Tied may seem like something not much different from what we've seen many times before. But I think it is. It's better than much else we've had on the subjects of the sexuality of the wealthy and the uses of S&M. It compares, interestingly enough, to one of the best S&M films ever: the great Mexican movie, Leap Year. There, the people and environs were as sadly lower-middle-class as those here are top-of-the-line. Yet both movies probe character and sexuality deeply, finally making us think and, yes, even care.

Unfortunately, Leap Year is no longer available to stream on Netflix, though you can rent the DVD. Tied -- distributed by IFC Midnight -- is available via streaming only, for now, but can be saved into your NF queue for the time, if and when, a DVD arrives.

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