Sex for sale, a bit oddly

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - David Strat­ton

Fad­ing Gigolo

(M) Limited re­lease

Young & Beau­ti­ful (Je­une & Jolie)

Limited re­lease

Be­yond the Edge

Limited re­lease

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.

(G)

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

Fad­ing Gigolo

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