“Greta”

Humor and terror are a hard mix, but done masterfully the film audience really takes part in the campy fun. This was my experience in viewing “Greta”. One middle-aged man yelled at the screen, “ Don’t be stupid. Don’t go down there,” and a boy to my far left shouted out directions to our frantic, trapped protagonist: “ Pick up the rolling-pin!”.  I was laughing  out loud one second and grimacing the next.

“Greta” does have a slow build-up, but some of the reason for this is due to the television trailers that reveal too much. Still there are plenty of surprises. There are numerous  traditional horror tropes and routines: severed fingers, hidden rooms, locked toy chests, drug laden syringes, and dead bodies buried in the cellar. Add stalking, manic outbursts, mental asylum history, and cretin private detectives, and subway chases to ramp up the narrative arc, and one will not glance away.

The acting is superb. Isabelle Huppert plays the lonely, revengeful Greta. Her Chanel suits and French cooking prowess, her musicality at the piano keep us interested. Greta’s trench coat chic and ballet steps leave us more surprised at her gum spitting  than her lye-sprinkling. Huppert is having more fun than she did in her early “ The Lacemaker” film, and we are enjoying her.

Irish Director Neil Jordan of “The Crying Game” fame uses the New York setting to great advantage. The restaurants, the subway, the alleys, and off-beat residences ground us in the life of the city.

The two TriBeCa roomies are perfectly cast, too. Maika Monroe plays Erica, the city girl who admonishes naive Francis McCullen (  Chloë Grace Moretz ) that when you find a purse left  on the subway, you don’t return it. You call the bomb squad. Erica has all the best lines and the most moxie. The loft is a gift from Erica’s father. Her answer to most problems is a colonic spa day! Moretz’s heart-shaped face and big eyes make Frankie, who just lost her mother, a vessel to victimize. Greta takes her to atmospheric sanctuaries to light candles. She tells Frankie that her husband played the  church organ here. Her only daughter is in Paris. Loneliness haunts her, so Frankie helps her pick out a rescue dog.

There is a terrific elevator scene with drug induced closing walls and up and down vehicle thrills. The musical score makes the film, beginning and ending with “ Where are you? Where have you been without me?  I thought you cared about me…” and ending with the same Frank Sinatra song. The award-winning Javier Navarrete uses classical music, lullabies, and dance rhythms to underscore Ray Wright and Neil Jordan’s modern-gothic tale.  The refrain “ Where is my happy ending ?” may just set a sequel in place for next Halloween.

“Elle”

I first saw French actress Isabelle Huppert in “The Lacemaker” ( 1977 ). She played a shy, virgin betrayed by her seducer. She ended up in a mental ward. Four decades and with hundreds of films to her credit ( like “Loulou” and “The Piano Teacher”), Huppert has lifted The Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress” out of the hands of Natalie Portman, the doppelgänger for our First Lady, Jackie. Huppert showed genuine surprise at this, as did I.

Accolades aside, Isabelle Huppert does not do meek and mild in “Elle”.  Her Michelle is so in control that she is out of control. She is damaged goods. Her hurt causes her to hurt others, insufferably so. Yet, she is a victim of the past and of the present. We come to understand her, admire her, but never like her.

Cold humor is here as we watch her steam in jealousy, carry her mother’s ashes under her arm, roll her eyes at her son’s ordinariness. She is a survivor, who has been brutally raped, chooses not to report it, and is complicit in its repetition. She soldiers on and we accept all her meanness and self-pleasuring. When her backstory  is revealed to us, we marvel that she did not end up under lock and key.

David Burke’s screenplay is based on Philippe Djian’s novel, “Oh”.  It is almost a satire on the “sexy French”. Fetishes like “crunching”, infidelities too numerous to count, and gigolos a prancing fill the screen. Add the animated gaming  hyped to produce “boners” and the neighborly rapist, ( you will guess this right away), and we have a crazy world. Something that the French portray  zestily well.

Dutch director Paul Verhoeven orchestrates the visceral violence and the subtle absurdity with a crèche rising, a tv mass with Pope Francis, a stud’s hernia belt, and my favorite line: “your background in literature is unsuitable for ( gaming) playability”.I enjoyed the symbolism of the intubated sparrow. I cringed at “the tortured soul’s forgiveness” line,  though I think this maybe a major theme.

This is a French film all the way~ cats included. The mix of genres from mystery thriller to sexual farce to a psychological  disorders’ studyguide will jostle, just as Isabelle  Huppert’s award did me. Huppert is good. Her reserve and icy blankness have  been modeled by actress Jessica Chastain, but I have always admired  Huppert’s  French contemporary, Isabelle Ajani’s more passionate volatility . Affect aside now, I was taken for a ride the French way with “Elle”, and you will be, too.