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Alexandra’s Project (Rolf de Heer, 2003)


    Alexandra’s Project, Rolf de Heer’s limp tale of a housewife’s vengeful malaise, tries to come off as a Jeanne Dielman for the reality TV age. Unfortunately, this utterly disposable post-feminist tract is so misguided that it ends up making most reality TV look thoughtful. In Project’s thinly conceived plot, somewhat insensitive husband Steve (Gary Sweet) comes home from a day at work to find instead of the surprise birthday party he expected an unpleasant home movie in which his wife Alexandra (Helen Buday) bears her grudges against him. The time structure of the film takes place over one day, which harmfully limits our ability to judge Steve’s offenses against his wife. When Alexandra turns the tables on her husband, putting him in a position where he can only watch as she makes him squirm, it has little effect for the audience, since nothing we’ve seen Steve do suggests he has been so domineering that he gave his wife no voice at all. Husband Steve might be guilty of taking his wife for granted, but at no point is he revealed as a monster that would prompt such extreme behavior from his wife. Her passive-aggressive assault on him is repulsive, as it’s meant to be, but not at all instructive because it comes so far out of left field.


    Alexandra’s Project’s first act is a huge miscalculation. In the film’s political sphere, women are ignored and used by men who soak up glory without appreciating them. Here, it’s precisely because we’re focused on the miserable existence of the near-comatose Alexandra in the first few reels that her inevitable gambit loses any shock value.  The script’s later attempts to equalize the playing field by turning the audience on both husband and wife don’t work because they strain plausibility to the breaking point, and once you stop believing in the characters in a film as tightly controlled as this one, it degenerates into a pointless exercise. Michael Haneke might be able to make a scenario like this work, but it’s doubtless that his script would feature characters and performances that were much more well-rounded than the sketchy ones we get here. Amicable divorce seems to be the last thing on the film’s mind, bizarrely, which makes the film an exercise in absurd sadism. Worse, still, than its obvious sadism is the fact that there’s nothing remotely clever about its execution. De Heer enjoys trying (and trying is probably the operative word for this bore of a movie) to make the audience squirm as Steve watches his Blair Witch of a wife reveal herself, but his concept is so shallow that it never becomes more than a concept. This astonishingly self-satisfied movie is resolved so concretely that it loses any meaning at all.



Jeremy Heilman