Thursday, March 20, 2008

Movie Notes: Eva (1962)

Camille Paglia asked whither les femmes fatales?, who really do seem to have wriggled out of American cinema in recent years. Well, they can take a lesson from Jeanne Moreau, who plays the most fatale of femme fatales in this 1962 classic. Eva is the story of a suddenly-successful writer whose fame is undeserved and who gets his comeuppance in the form of a married minx who slowly destroys him. The two of them ultimately wind up damned to be together.

At first blush, neither character is particularly likeable; sort of a putz for a twat. But, watch the film again. Notice how Stanley Baker's character goes from supremely self-assured male to quivering idiot simply by making every possible wrong choice, as if subconsciously punishing himself for his sin. Notice also the melancholy of Jeanne Moreau's character and her contempt for men as she tries to carve out a corner of freedom in a time and place that is perhaps more patriarchal and bourgeois than our own. And then there's that sultry thing again- check out Jeanne Moreau's introduction, in which she's vamping alone in a bedroom to Billie Holiday singing Willow Weep for Me. There's very little going on, but you could put a child through puberty by showing them that scene!

Maybe this is the strength of the femme fatale story: the idea that the innate sexual superiority of women is powerful enough to upend masculine civilization. Maybe that's why the stories have been powerful enough to reoccur repeatedly in Western art and literature. And maybe it's why contemporary films tend to reduce women to harmless little girls.

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