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La Captive (Chantal Akerman) 2000


    By using “The Prisoner,” the fifth volume of Proust’s massive “Remembrance of Things Past” as a jumping off point, Chantal Akerman’s La Captive tells a simple story of obsessive male-female interaction that has some decidedly complex implications. Early scenes of the film play out like a Fatal Attraction-style thriller as we watch Simon (Stanislas Merhar), a rich young man with too much time on his hands, as he stalks Ariane (Sylvie Testud), his live-in fiancée, whom he suspects of a form of infidelity that he can’t quite place. The lazy vagueness of Ariane’s response to any sort of questioning and the tittering that emerges from the room whenever Simon leaves Ariane and her girlfriend initially suggests he might be right. As the film proceeds, however, our opinion is subtly changed. Simon’s outrageous reactions to Ariane’s behavior hint at a consumptive jealousy that soon overtakes him. Ariane’s attempts to assuage her recollection of the events of her outings with ambiguity only further provoke his suspicious speculation. There’s not so much a tug-of-war between them as a cycle in which Simon demands something preposterous and Ariane all-too-willingly provides it. Perhaps nowhere in the film is the one-sidedness of their relationship more apparent than the routine sex scenes in which not only does Ariane not get any sexual pleasure from having Simon grind up against her, but she also is made to feign both sleep and sexual pleasure!


    Akerman’s minimalist approach belies the fact that we’re getting a story that isn’t being told objectively. The film’s lack of intrusive style disarms to the point that we can almost forget that we’re being manipulated as an audience. The performances are shaded enough so that even if we can’t quite grasp the motivations of the characters definitively, they don’t feel hollow. If Testud remains a frustratingly unknowable vacuum of emotions, she also gives the movie the only sense of ambiguity that it has. There’s something distant about the whole affair, and the deadly pacing of the film only exacerbates it. That lethargy is necessary, though, because it typifies the opulent, but decaying, lifestyle that these characters lead and incriminates that way of life in the story’s eventual tragic outcome. Any imposed excitement would probably feel phony in such a context. If watching the film is a bit boring, the motivations of its characters become more intriguing in retrospect since they are so fully rounded. The frustrations felt when watching it are the key to sympathizing with Simon. Ultimately though, La Captive feels like an even more inert version of Antonioni’s L’Avventura without the overriding mystery that made that film so compelling and enduring.


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Jeremy Heilman