Monday, February 8, 2010

Acquired Intimacy Syndrome

Steven Soderbergh has been shooting many, if not most of his films on video for a number of years. Among the qualities video provides is an absence of film grain, especially if one is viewing the final result on digital video. This gives each image a stillness, a placidity, which is impossible in film, with its grains, flecks, scratches and even at times splices.

That stillness feels appropriate for The Girlfriend Experience (2009), a film about stasis which is not boring or static, as I feared at the outset of the film. [I love Soderbergh, but he has perpetrated some real stiffs - Solaris and Full Frontal each made me want to tear my own eyes out.] The protagonist, a female escort who simulates actual personal relationships with her clients, making her more valuable than a mere sex partner, is still, poised, seeking to expand her business, but not repudiating it or dismissing it. This is not about a fallen woman seeking a way out of her sordid life. She sees life in a capitalistic society in terms of transactions, and she simply wants a better grade of transactions.

In fact, the only mistake she makes is falling into the same trap as her clients--mistaking a simulated relationship with a real one. But the realization does not destroy her. It is a bump in the road, and she resumes her established course. Another of the film's virtues is its 78-minute running time, so that it does not overstay is welcome and is not tempted to expand itself into something the material does not justify.

The film is also notable for being a scripted film which successfully pulls off the illusion of being improvised. This perhaps explains the casting of adult film actress Sasha Gray, who presumably is used to working with minimal scripting. [Incidentally, although the distributors would like you to think the presence of an adult film star promises something racy, she does not do anything in the film that a mainstream female star might not do, such as wear lacy lingerie or say an impolite word.] Gray brings a poise and a self-possession to the character, never betraying an ounce of the yearning or neediness that a conventionally-trained actress might demand from a director. ("Where's her vulnerability? I have to show her vulnerability," they would say.) Though the film is premised on a life of pre-arranged and mutually agreed deception, both audience and characters are nonetheless fooled.

A metaphor for film itself?

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