Based On a True Story

2018-06-08 06:57
 

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

Delphine Deyrieux is a highly successful novelist but after the major success of her more recent work, she finds herself suffering from writer's block and unable to come up with a new idea for her next novel. Enter Elle or “Her”, a young fan of Delphine's work who quickly befriends the older woman and convinces her to start writing something more autobiographical. Who is Elle, though? Is she just a passionate fan or something more sinister?

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

Adapting the acclaimed French novel by Delphine de Vigan, Roman Polanski and his co-writer, Olivier Assayas, have crafted a film that is, at very best, an interesting misfire and, at worst, something that had no business leaving the page in the first place. 

Films about writing are quite common and Polanski draws on many of them here – from Mercy to Adaptation to his own Ghost Writer – with a bit of Single White Female thrown in for good measure but Based On a True Story ultimately ends up being a fairly damning case study for just why these sorts of films are so hard to get right. At least, that's if it is actually about writing. The film may be in French but the main thing that gets lost in translation here is just what the hell Based On a True Story is trying to say and what it's, even generally, actually about.

Falling squarely between art film and a somewhat trashy thriller, it's far too staid and laborious to work as a thriller and too silly to work as an art film. No, silly isn't quite the right word. “Ridiculous” is more like it but what's really frustrating is I have no idea if its, shall we say, heightened sense of reality is intentional or not – or, for that matter, if Polanski has really done nothing but film an excruciating long two-hour piss-take or if we're supposed to take this nonsense seriously.     

Take for example, the relationship between Elle (or maybe L or maybe “Her” for Hermione; this particular detail actually does very literally get lost in translation) and Delphine. That no one else talks to or possibly even sees Elle looks like such an obvious “she's not really there” twist that it's impossible to not see their entire relationship, which reaches its crescendo of ludicrousness as Elle somehow manages to impersonate Delphine despite the fact that the two actresses playing these characters barely look like they come from the same species, let alone are supposed to look like the same person. 

And this isn't a spoiler, incidentally: aside for the fact that this “twist” seems to be the only valid way to read the story almost from the off, the final revelation at the end is so oblique and so abrupt that it's hard to say who or what Elle was and if any of the events actually did or didn't happen. Yes, it's (probably? possibly?) that old blurring the lines between fact and fiction trope. Isn't that fun?

Well, no. No, it isn't. And this is the real failing of the film. While someone like David Lynch at his best makes absurdism and surrealism so enjoyable that you wonder why anyone bothers to tell stories normally, Polanski's take on reality-bending (though, again, only possibly) storytelling just comes across as confused and, oh yes, very, very, very boring. And that's before it reaches its final act that's, presumably, supposed to be the thrilling climax of the film but is mostly just... irritating. 

Aside for the film's ambition – which, really, should always be applauded – the only real bright spot in the entire film is, much to the surprise of no one, Eva Green. Her electrifying screen presence already made her the only watchable thing in the truly dreadful 300 sequel (don't remember what it was called, don't care) and she's the only enjoyable thing about Based On a True Story. Her ever-so-slightly utterly unhinged take on Elle glows all the more brightly when placed next to the dull, dreary performance phoned in by her co-star, Emmanuelle Seigner, but, by any measure, she's wonderfully magnetic here – even as she reminds us after years in Hollywood, usually playing British, that, oh yes, she is actually French.  

She's almost great enough to recommend the film for her performance alone but, no, not quite. Whatever you may think of Polanski as a person, he's usually a far better filmmaker than this confused, sluggish mess would ever suggest. 

Read more on:    eva green  |  movie review

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