Strong Wills; Quick Thrills


Stubborn and demanding, impulsive and libidinous, Camile (Karin Viard), the hero of Catherine Corsini’s The New Eve, is not an easy woman to like, let alone love. Camile is not, as such characters are often described, a force of nature or a manifestation of pure id. Rather, she is in rebellion against culturally prescribed feminine behavior. Her rebellion is conscious and willed, although not always controlled, and hardly ever strategic. At family gatherings, Camile proclaims her hatred of couples, monogamy, and the hypocrisy of a bourgeois, settled life. In sexual situations, she insists on being the aggressor. Of course, Camile is not as independent or impervious to other people’s feelings as she’d like to be. She wants to be loved and cherished, but only on her own terms. Alcohol gives her false courage. At parties, she drinks herself into a stupor, relying on her best friends, a lesbian couple (Mireille Rousset and Nozha Khouadra), to put her to bed and clean up the vomit.

Coming home from a doctor’s visit, muttering to herself like a bag lady, she stumbles in the street, sending bottles of antidepressants flying in all directions. A man comes to her rescue, helping her to her feet and gathering up her parcels. In gratitude, she flings herself weeping into his arms. The more he tries to disengage, the more she clings to him. For her, it’s love at first sight. The man, Alexis (Pierre Loup Rajot), turns out to be a friend of her brother. That he’s married and has two children does not discourage her relentless pursuit. She refuses to give up, even when Alexis tells her flat out that he’s not interested in either leaving his wife or taking a mistress.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because The New Eve is an update on Howard Hawks’s sublime screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, albeit more earthbound and sexually explicit. Camile is the willful, outrageous Katharine Hepburn character, but without the physical delicacy, scatterbrain act, and upper-class sense of privilege. Alexis is the repressed, professorial Cary Grant character, duty-bound to his wife just as Grant’s character was to his fiancée, Miss Swallow. Corsini is interested not in the physical comedy that makes Bringing Up Baby such a joy but rather in the mutual attraction of a woman and a man with diametrically opposite personalities. She’s a hysteric; he’s an anal retentive. They irritate and infuriate each other, but they’re also never so alive as when they’re together. The New Eve is less about a woman’s struggle for independence than about her fear of losing that independence by committing to a man. Since there are no easy answers to this dilemma, the film has an ending that befits a romantic comedy and yet is sufficiently ambivalent to qualify as feminist and progressive.

Slight and prematurely balding, Rajot is no Cary Grant, but he’s a great foil for Viard, who won a César—the French equivalent of the Oscar—for her performance. Viard is tall, angular, and rather clumsy, with wary eyes, a hungry mouth, and more nervous tics than Parker Posey. The actress’s courage—her downright recklessness—is similar to that of the character she plays. Viard never compromises Camile’s abrasiveness or her scary mood swings in the interest of making herself more attractive. The New Eve takes its shape from her performance, which is as big as life.

Sweet, ribald, and even inspired in an off-the-cuff way, Human Traffic provides a bit of a contact high—the kind where you’re stoned and bored at once. First-time feature director Justin Kerrigan follows five twentysomething friends on a routine weekend of drugs, clubs, and mating games. Setting the film in his hometown of Cardiff, Wales, he makes his knowledge of the local club scene evident in every frame. Kerrigan establishes an intimate tone by having his characters introduce themselves directly to the camera. Jip (John Simm) is having a little impotency problem—maybe because of his troubled relationship to his mother, who’s a prostitute, and maybe because he feels as if he’s being screwed by the manager of the jeans shop where he works. Kerrigan literalizes the metaphor by having the boss stick it to Jip, herky-jerky from behind. The scene establishes how reality and fantasy will morph into each other for the rest of the film.

The plot, such as it is, involves Jip and his club mates: the promiscuous Lulu (Lorraine Pilkington), with whom he discovers true love before the weekend is over; Koop (Shaun Parkes), a black DJ with more enthusiasm than talent and an irrational fear that his adoring girlfriend, Nina (Nicola Reynolds), is lusting after other men; and Moff (Danny Dyer), who deals drugs from his home even though his father is a cop. The five start dropping Ecstasy on Friday night and don’t come down until Sunday. Coming down is a bummer, but not bad enough to keep them from pledging to do the same thing the next weekend. What’s most refreshing about Human Traffic is that it’s not a cautionary tale.

Kerrigan edits the film as if amphetamines were his drug of choice, and his use of extremely wide or telescopic lenses combined with Day-Glo colors is pleasantly delirious. There are some amusing set pieces—an extremely explicit conversation about sex between the two girls and three opportunities to get inside the head of Moff, including an obsessive conversation with a taxi driver about Travis Bickle. Dyer is exceptionally vivid even when catatonically stoned. Focusing on its motley crew, Human Traffic isn’t exactly a rave movie, since the club scenes are minimal. The movie is lively enough while it’s going on; afterward, it’s all a blur.

Shinobu Yaguchi’s Adrenaline Drive is more sluggish and contrived than his mordant debut feature, Down the Drain, although its premise is strikingly similar. In both films, a seemingly casual incident places the unprepossessing protagonist outside the law and transforms her or his life in ways not previously imaginable. In Down the Drain, the unintentional misuse of a subway pass sends a young girl on a hellish downward spiral. In Adrenaline Drive, a young man takes the blame when his boss’s car rear-ends a yakuza’s Jaguar. Forced to accompany the gangster to his headquarters, he expects the worst. Instead, he finds himself in possession of a bag full of cash when a bomb goes off, killing almost everyone else. He flees the scene with a bedraggled nurse who heard the explosion and came by to help. But the pair barely have time to enjoy their windfall when the surviving yakuza and his pickup band of thugs come after them.

Yaguchi is onto something interesting here in relation to how money transforms people’s lives. Rather than feeling guilty, these two kids, formerly scapegoated at their jobs, become so confident and creative that they’re able to out-maneuver their yakuza enemy. But unlike Down the Drain, where the surreal humor was rooted in realistic detail, the slapstick Adrenaline Drive is little more than a cartoon, and not a funny one at that.