[From TIFF '07]
I was hoping that wpqx would, as they say, "take care" of Eastern Promises, the latest from Canadian master David Cronenberg, but hes seemingly very busy. My situation currently isnt much better, which is the primary reason why Ive decided to simply add a few notes instead of a traditional review.
*As was the case with A History of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises didnt derive from the beautiful mind of Cronenberg. And the original script -- about Eastern European human trafficking -- by British scribe Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things ) was initially intended for BBC television. Needless to say, however, quite a few changes were made once Cronenberg came on board.
*The aforementioned Stephen Frears effort and Eastern Promises are both situated in London and deal with clandestine subcultures. In the latter, its prominently groups of "Russian" expats who have pursued radically different lifestyles from one another in their new homeland. "When you have a culture thats embedded in another, theres a constant tension between the two," Cronenberg recently stated. "In the U.S. the melting pot was supposed to mean you come and you absorb American values. But in Canada and England the idea of multiculturalism was something else. At its worst its you come and you live there, but you live in a little ghetto of your own culture that you brought with you. I suppose thats happening in the States with the Spanish language. Can multiculturalism really work? I dont know, but its an interesting study."
*In both A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, Viggo Mortensens character compass remains in transition, though ambiguously so. (Here, he plays Nikolai Luzhin, a chauffeur/fixer for a crime family.) Ostensibly, the new film is so simple and generic that it could pass for a Christmas story (with a miracle, et al.). So, as Jim Hoberman of The Village Voice has pondered: "Is our Nikolai an angel, or has Anna [Naomi Watts; a half-Russian midwife who comes upon the personal diary of a young victim] made a deal with the devil?" With that in mind, the final moments of the film subtly impart another tragedy, one whose casualty also has a tendency to mark the travails.
*Mortensens commitment to the project and his character alone deserves recognition. He reportedly went to Russia for research -- "My goal was to make sure my character had a particular class, an ethnic and geographical background. I worked really hard on translating the slang and getting the body language right" (Mortensen) -- even though the film is wholly set in the U.K. Vincent Cassel, who plays the violent and sexually insecure son of a crime boss, is equally effective (hes also the catalyst for the films homoerotic subtext); for once its good to see this very capable actor not embarrassing himself in an international production.
*Cronenbergs career-long fascination with the human body certainly makes its presence felt. In Eastern Promises, Mortensens "identity" in inscribed on his skin, and, depending on the situation, both serves as a protective armor and an irrevocable blemish. (The much-discussed fight sequence in a Russian bathhouse [where "you can see (the other mans) tattoos] truly needs to be seen to be believed.)
*The well-lit domestic sequences involving Anna, her mother, and her ex-KGB uncle (Jerzy Skolimowski) may not play very smoothly but are quite revealing, nonetheless. While the reasoning behind Annas dedication to a newborn is made fairly explicit, what isnt perhaps is her disposition. In one of the scenes, her uncles off-the-cuff remark about interracial couples is followed by another more politically correct one, but in this process we do learn a little about Anna, and after also taking in her wardrobe and other accessories, we could possibly deduce that shes a tad more defiant than your average midwife. Not surprising, then, that her interest in Nikolai is obvious from the very beginning, and it's not simply due to his association with the family hes employed by.
When its all said and done, A History of Violence may have a longer life span than Eastern Promises -- but that shouldnt necessarily be taken as a negative. The former simply wrestles with larger, more pertinent issues. The latter also isnt helped by the fact that its setting is neutral, which makes its politics rather quaint in comparison. But once again, Cronenberg has been triumphant in subverting seemingly innocuous material.
*The film had its World Premiere at Toronto; it won the fest's People's Choice Award.
*Related: David Cronenberg THREAD.