Thursday, June 03, 2010

La Femme Publique

La Femme Publique [1984]

Andrzej Zulawski's La Femme Publique (The Public Woman) is a film you either find interesting and hate or you find terrible and hate. I take the former view. It has plenty of interest to offer but it makes me want to kick the screen. It is a film with such raw emotions and over-the-top scenes that the entertainment values is like a hammer to the head. And the scenes come at the viewer so loud and fast that it doesn't give one time to consider any implications; It's like an auto accident for the screen. There is nothing subtle about the movie; it is something you experience rather than enjoy.

The films stars Valérie Kaprisky [in a notably shrill performance] as a young woman who leaves home, becomes a nude dancer posing in a photography studio and is one day spotted by a completely mad Czech director (Francis Huster) who casts her in his film version of Doestoevsky's The Possessed. She has an affair with the director but then falls for another completely mad [Czech] dishwasher who was married to the previous movie-star the director used [and apparently terrorized] in an earlier movie he directed. While in the particularly volatile relationship with the dishwasher she begins to role play as though she is his wife. All the while being emotionally humiliated by the director of the film she is shooting.

Although it is not technically a Euro-trash film, in the best tradition of that style, the film is full of symbols, loudly perverse scenes, a political subtext and sex. Did I mention it has sex? The actress is rather attractive and her nudity gets good screen time. So much so that it borders on exploitation. Her nudity is such an attraction in the film, in fact, that if you do a Google image search and set the results on 'strict' you still get naked images.

But that is just window dressing to the whole experience. It's a tough film.

That said, the fact that I am spending time writing a post about it let's you know that at least the film makes you feel something. So, despite it's egregious tone and its questionable artistic merit, I'll say if you like a good knock to the head every so often consider watching La Femme Publique. It has it's defenders. It was also shot by Sacha Vierny who has shot such classic films as 'Last Year at Marienbad', 'Belle de jour' and 'The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover'. He seemed to be in the right place at the right time for a few cinematic artistic successes.


JeanRZEJ said...

'There is nothing subtle about the movie; it is something you experience rather than enjoy.'

And to think - this is one of Andrzej's most subtle films! Subtle in the way of nuance, though, not 'under the top' performance. And yet, still, it is middle of the road as far as performance embellishment goes. I may write something on this film in the not too distant future (sooner still I'm going to address Zulawski's Diabel), but the sort of reaction you exhibit here seems common. I saw one of his least hysterical films first, My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days, and I was completely blown away by the blend of cinematographic embellishment, emotional chaos, and hilarity. After that I could care less about less overstated, more 'realistic' portrayals. That the cinematography in that film is surely the worst of any of Zulawski's films meant that I was in for a treat. Vierney in La femme publique does some great work, although perhaps he's more attuned to the more detached methods of Resnais, Ruiz, Greenaway, et al. I won't go into too much detail here, but I'll just say - all of Zulawski's films are brash and uncompromising and this all feeds into, rather than detracts from, their ever increasing rewards.

Matt said...

I look forward [sort of] to seeing more of his films. I have to prepare myself, I suppose. But what would really be cool would be a retrospective of his work on the big screen. That is where the power of his films would really come through.