French tale drenched in emotion
THERE are multiple levels on which to enjoy Roman Polanski’s Based on a True Story (D’apres une histoire vraie), none of them very deep or complicated.
But together they raise the resonance of a masterfully made psychological thriller in the traditional mode. A teasing, tongue-in-cheek tale of literary cannibalism, it’s a film with in-jokes that will play best with audiences who watch France Culture programmes and recognise references.
Here the screenplay, adapted by Polanski and French auteur Olivier Assayas from Delphine de Vigan’s novel, is an intimate woman’s story about one diabolical mind attempting to take over another.
The director’s muse Emmanuelle Seigner steps into the laid-back threads of Delphine, a best-selling writer who we meet at a book fair besieged by her adoring fans, captured by the camera in an amusing series of flash caricatures. She’s obviously at the top of her game and her boyfriend, Francois (Vincent Perez), the host of a book programme on French TV, isn’t bad, either. But faced with the blank white Word page on her computer screen, she’s unable to produce a single syllable of her new novel.
Enter the beautiful Elle (Eva Green at her seductive, taunting best), who she casually meets at the book fair and later bumps into again at a party. The chic young woman presents herself to Delphine as her great admirer and a humble ghost writer, currently at work on a hush-hush autobiography. Elle so clearly means trouble that the audience will have red lights flashing as soon as Alexandre Desplat’s mocking score hits its first few warning notes. But Delphine, exhausted from her promotional labours, is taken in by the young woman and literally opens the door of her life to this bewitching stranger. Elle’s trap unfolds with silken deadliness.
Admittedly, squeezing drama and suspense out of a writer’s hermit life is no short order, and for all their concerted efforts, de Vigan and the screenwriters go no further than mildly alarming the audience as to the outcome of Elle’s intentions. She sends messages to all Delphine’s friends and professional associates telling them to keep away so she can concentrate on her writing.
But instead of urging the writer to start her book on the difficulties reality TV stars have returning to civilian life, she coaxes her instead to write the “hidden, dangerous, personal book” lurking inside her, based on her own life experiences. – Hollywood Reporter
Emmanuelle Seigner as Delphine and Eva Green as Elle, in a scene from ‘Based on a True Story’.