This movie kept reminding me of a terrific “evening soap opera” along the lines of “Dallas” but produced as a joint effort between Paris and Quebec in 1988. “Mount Royal” was shut down by Canadian prudery, because one of the plot elements was a Paris mistress. (There’s almost nothing on imdb.com.) Also a 1969 Altman movie with Sandy Dennis in which she captured a young man. I mean literally. (“That Cold Day in The Park.”) I had not realized until the director’s voice-over that “Chloe” was a Canadian film that did not pretend to be in the US. A different set of assumptions are working. The Canadian cities, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, have a subtle flavor to them. I don’t know Toronto, where Chloe was shot, but that vibe comes through in the movie. It’s partly placement of things, partly architectural choices, partly scale, partly speed. Both Calgary and Edmonton have ravines like the one just outside the fabulous movie house, but unlike LA ravines.
I’ve been thinking about ambiguity, irony, doubleness, levels, hidden meanings, subtext, and all the other strategies of templates -- not knowing which is the “real,” not knowing whether there IS such a thing as the real, wondering how much one can take control and superimpose a template, which in “Chloe” is almost entirely a matter of glass, mirrors, and overlooking. But not really -- the real templates are the expectations and needs of the characters, which sometimes match “reality” and other times do not.
This is very much related to what Tim Barrus and the boys do with their videos, the ones with overlays and segues. It also has a lot to do with eroticism, which is the theme of this film. The idea is simple: a woman gynecologist thinks her husband is cheating on her, hires a prostitute to test him, reminds the young woman (Chloe) that SHE is the customer, not her husband, and Chloe plays it that way -- providing a fantasy of a cheating husband, which causes the doctor, a control freak, to lose control enough herself to become the real fornicator. Don’t tell me the doctor is unrealistic: I had one just like her and dumped her fast. Controlling, but shallow and commercial, determined to make patients dependent. Like a prostitute. Very much adjusted to the expectations of the consumer, which is why I bailed. I have different expectations.
But that’s the whole theme of modern society, isn’t it? Commodification of intimacy. The hall of advertising mirrors. Partial contact, yawning vistas of expectation, little real connection -- which leads to a lot of misleading assumptions. People who have been damaged one way or another work their way through the labyrinth with the help of cell phones and Skype. (I can’t remember any voice-mail in this film -- mostly text.) A strikingly inspired moment is when the doc opens her son’s bedroom door. He’s talking to his girlfriend onscreen and doesn’t see his mom behind him but the girl friend sees her through the Skype camera.
Atom Egoyan (Armenian, born in Egypt, artist parents, raised in Toronto) and Erin Cressida Wilson (born in San Francisco, English teacher parents) plus Amanda Seyfried (barely adult child-model who played Chloe) did the voice-over commentary which is one of the best I’ve heard in terms of explaining how the work was done and why. Atom (director) and Erin (writer) were working with an original idea from the movie “Natalie” (written by Anne Fontaine who also did “Coco before Chanel.” It’s pretty much a total rewrite/interpretation prompted by Ivan Reitman (Czech, six years younger than me) whose list of movies I avoid as crude and stupid. Strange.
Atom and Erin handle sexuality without stereotype or sentimentality, which is something I’ve been looking for -- not because at age seventy I think I’m going to launch into an affair, but because of trying to understand the past. These two are self-disclosing, and they are funny. Atom in particular tells wild things in a serious voice. Erin asks, “Is that striped pillow covered in zebra hide?” Atom launches into an account of the desperate Africa-wide search for an authentic zebra hide pillow. For a second one doesn’t realize it’s bogus. The idea is so glamorous, so expected in the extravagant world of movie set dressing. I just added to my Netflix queue all of his movies, all of Anne Fontaine’s movies, and all of Erin Cressida Wilson’s writing (not the movies). I feel I need to hurry before Netflix, Amazon and IMDB morph into Ivan Reitman’s list.
Since the French philosophical assault on reality, the world looks very different and fMRI’s confirm the brain struggles with this, making us stay to try to figure it out. What you think you see is not what the next person over might see or, indeed, as Atom remarks, every time one sees “Chloe” it will be a different movie because one brings the eyes and mind of the person one is at that moment. All these glass and mirror images are not meant to obscure the clues for a mystery but to ironically comment -- rather tenderly, actually -- on our attempts to grasp our own identity through relationships. (Liam Neeson’s wife, Natasha Richardson, died in a ski accident during this filming, which is delicately alluded to but highly relevant. He earns every expression on his face.)
Artists, writers, actors, directors work constantly in a world of uncertainty, which can so quickly become either tragic or comic. Some have what it takes to seize the moment and weave it on the loom of illusion. No doubt some of the audience is too unsophisticated to keep up with them, but demand the same old, same old. They want TRUTH, THEIR truth, crude and malfunctioning as it is. Erin astutely comments that in order to write as she wanted to and is so capable of, she had to move over into the marginal genre of erotica, because then the money is provided on the premise that even the world’s farting frat louts will go see naked women making out. Luckily the culture has become permissive enough that an actress of the quality of Julianne Moore can act in a movie like this without stooping.