Sex for sale, a bit oddly
(M) Limited release
Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie)
Beyond the Edge
SEX for sale, the oldest profession, is the theme of two interesting new films this week. In one, a French teenager finds prostitution a lucrative way to finance an independent lifestyle, and in the other a New York florist is persuaded to provide intimate pleasure to middle-aged women able to afford such things.
In John Turturro plays Fioravante, the aforementioned florist, and his role as gigolo emerges from a conversation with his friend and neighbour Murray Schwartz (Woody Allen). Murray’s bookshop is closing down (who reads books these days?) and he is mulling over another source of income when his dermatologist, Dr Parker (Sharon Stone), happens to mention that she has a fantasy about a menage a trois with a female friend but can’t think where to find the man to complete the triangle. Murray reckons that Fioravante might fill the bill, and offers to act as pimp — for a percentage, of course.
At first glance, this seems like a ridiculous concept. Why would the still-beautiful Parker (and Stone looks very elegant in the role) need the help of a nerd like Murray to find a man? It’s a hurdle you have to overcome if you’re to enjoy the movie, and Turturro glides over it as speedily as possible before you can protest.
The venture is so successful — Fioravante even gets a generous tip over and above the agreed fee — that Murray starts thinking about other possible clients, and settles on Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the attractive widow of an Orthodox rabbi. This time, though, things don’t go so smoothly and another man becomes involved — a Jewish policeman named Dovi, played to perfection by Liev Schreiber.
This is, as you’ll have gathered, an unusual and potentially risky outline for a dramatic comedy, and the good news is that Turturro, who also wrote and directed, handles it all with such a light touch that the film is amazingly beguiling. Turturro’s list of acting credits is long and pretty well known, but the four films he has directed prior to this one, starting with the bluecollar drama Mac (1992), will be below the radar of many, which is a shame because, though not exactly major works, Romance & Cigarettes (2005) and Passione (2010) are filled with charm and invention.
Fading Gigolo is perhaps his most successful blend of offbeat humour and observational drama to date. His own performance, as an ordinary bloke who finds it difficult to accept the fact that beautiful women like Dr Parker and her friend (Sofia Vergara) find him extremely sexy before he starts to fall in love with a shy, repressed Jewish widow, is sublime. All the women give fine performances, and Schreiber’s lovesick cop is a splendid characterisation.
Perhaps the film’s major achievement, though, is the performance Turturro extracts from Allen. There was a time, when he was making classic comedies like Annie Hall and Manhattan, that Allen was a consummate deliverer of his own witty dialogue, but when he has chosen to act in his recent films his strangely awkward presence has diminished the material. In Fading Gigolo he seems completely at home — this is the old, witty Woody, and he’s fun to have around. FRANCOIS Ozon’s about a teenage prostitute, has one key element in common with Turturro’s movie, apart from the sexfor-sale theme: the viewer has to accept a premise that, on the face of it, doesn’t seem at all likely — or does it? Sixteen-year-old Isabelle, played by ravishing newcomer Marine Vacth, is holidaying by the sea with her mother (Geraldine Pailhas), stepfather (Frederic Pierrot) and younger brother (Fantin Ravat) when she makes the decision to rid herself of her virginity, something she apparently sees as a burden. A German boy achieves the desired result: “It’s done,” she tells her brother, and there’s no suggestion of love or emotion. It’s as though she’s achieved an unpleasant task and can now move on to other things.
Isabelle returns to Paris and life as a student: but after school she secretly begins working as a freelance prostitute, earning large sums of money from her mostly older clients. Ozon isn’t interested in explaining why this beautiful and assured young woman would take such a step; presumably it’s an act of rebellion against her family and lifestyle, but a little more information would have been helpful.
The story takes place during the course of a year, with the film divided into four chapters named after the seasons. One of her regular clients is elderly Georges (Johan Leysen), who treats her with kindness and talks to her (something she welcomes) before taking her to bed.
Of course, this hedonistic lifestyle can’t last, and the second half of the film contains further revelations, and some unexpected reactions from Isabelle’s parents. There’s also a very late appearance from Charlotte Rampling, who brings depth to what could have been a very cliched character.
As we saw in the recent Blue is the Warmest Color, male French film directors are more than willing to film extensive nude scenes with beautiful young actresses, and there’s more of the same here. Vacth gives a luminous performance, but her character is less explored than her body, and that’s the film’s major shortcoming.
Ozon is a prolific and talented director but, although it’s beautifully made and the central performance is in its own way memorable, there’s still a feeling of superficiality about it all. THE successful climb to the summit of Mount Everest, which was revealed to the outside world on Coronation Day 1953, was the subject of a documentary film, The Conquest of Everest, released later that year. New Zealand director Leanne Pooley has now produced an updated version of the story with which contains a good deal of footage from the earlier film (with a largely new commentary), interspersed with re-enacted scenes that feature Chad Moffitt as Edmund Hillary, the NZ beekeeper who, in the company of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was first to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain. Sonam Sherpa plays Tenzing in the re-enacted scenes, with John Wraight as the expedition leader, John Hunt.
This painstaking re-examination of the expedition, and of the tenacious men who conquered the mountain, is, perhaps, rather specialised fare. But the skilful combination of old and new footage, almost seamlessly spliced together, still provides riveting material for viewers in a more cynical age.
Director and star John Turturro, right, extracts a wonderful performance from Woody Allen in