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PostPosted: Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:49 am 
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ALICE EVE AND STANLEY TUCCI IN SOME VELVET MORNING

The war of the sexes, in real time

Neil LaBute's film Some Velvet Morning, which he wrote and directs, is as nasty as it is elegant. Never has the playwright-filmmaker played with the relations of men and women -- seen here through one man and one woman -- in a more austere, or theatrical, style. LaBute stays close to his eternal preoccupations here, the sex roles and the war of the sexes, but in approaching them in such a pared down and pure manner, he achieves something new. Some Velvet Morning provides delicious, cruel pleasure. As in all good plays, time is well used, and attention does not lag.

Fred (Stanley Tucci) arrives at the doorstep of his beautiful young mistress laden with suitcases, telling her (Alice Eve) that he has just left his wife for her -- though he has not seen her for several years. The passionate gesture does not conceal a considerable brutality. Fred expects to be welcomed but while the handsome blonde says the surprise -- or shock -- is pleasant, she has a hard edge too. What is she called - Velvet? She snaps out with anger at his using that name, which she now eschews.

What is happening here? The audience knows only what Fred and Velvet tell each other, and their past seems too strange to make common assumptions. They hold back on mentioning things, so as not to open wounds. It all happens in real time, over the course of 82 minutes, in this one space, with only these two people, and no flashbacks. What we see, what we hear, is what we get and what we know. There seems only the thinnest thread dividing reality and illusion. Isn't this the ground of being of much modern theater -- what provides much of its excitement, tension, and intellectual stimulation? It seems, anyway, that there was passion, for sure, but the previous parting was not amicable. And though Fred declares his willingness to give up his old life for Velvet, his opinion of her is not altogether admiring. Hints emerge that she is, or was, an expensive call girl.

The bright, neutral house suggests a good income, and not much of a personal life. But plenty of meetings with men. The dialog turns right away to a teasing game, because Velvet -- we have to call her that -- says she has an appointment to go to. What it is, and how pressing, she remains vague about. This "something" Velvet must do is a way of distancing Fred and putting him in his place. But Fred uses it as a weapon too. He is sarcastic about what it might be. It emerges that Fred originally met Velvet through his son, a computer whiz, whom she was "seeing." And it seems she may be seeing him still, though Fred did not know this. This son becomes a barrier and a weapon. Fred mocks the blandness of that word, "seeing." He singles out other words -- "whatever" and "amazing" and attacks them, signaling their difference in ages and sensibilities. Fred, from what Velvet says, is a lawyer. She -- she was a student. It seems she put herself through college through "seeing" men.

Fred uses blunter words. In fact his use of four-letter, Anglo-Saxon words defines his cruelty toward this pretty blonde, his will to dominate, his machismo, and his condescension toward her -- which does not bar him from feeling extremely attracted.

Might Fred be ready to make himself subservient to Velvet? Well, no. But that is ambiguous. At first he seems willing to wait while she goes out to lunch, on this mysterious meeting, but he scoffs when she pretends not to be free to see him the rest of the week. If he has given up his wife for her, he remains just one of her johns. She only has Sunday free. But eventually, he may be unwilling to let her leave the house.

This is a highly tuned theatrical experience, with the same cinematic minimalism found in other filmed plays, such as Roman Polanski's Death and the Maiden, Carnage, and no doubt, his new film Venus in Fur (since that is a very good play, though I haven't seen the film). But these Polanski pieces, especially the first, are more considerable, and Polanski is of course the greater filmmaker. Sometimes, as the mysteries are played with and the relationship morphs and morphs again, one may be reminded of Pinter. But this of course lacks the down-and-dirty absurdity and danger and the Beckettian horror of Pinter. Velvet is cruel combat, but relatively safe.

We shouldn't blame this movie for what it doesn't try to do. This cat and mouse game is all in the details, and all in the dialogue. But we can't help noticing that some things are missing that are found in most of LaBute's plays, which often are four-handers, not restricted to two people. There is no on-scene context here of ordinary work, other relationships defined, other activities, other concerns or locations. This is good dialogue, but it's abstract, archetypal: though the clipped-off vernacular sentences are there, I miss the usually fuller display of LaBute's pitch-perfect ear for how Americans talk, and the absurdity and humor and laughs that talk brings. Though LaBute can be very funny, there's virtually no room for laughs here. Fred and Velvet also are a little too successful at hiding themselves. One starts looking at the decor, her hair, his beard. Something is missing that needs to be here. But as a typically ugly-beautiful LaBute experience, Some Velvet Morning is immaculate. Stanley Tucci and the British Anne Eve look and act stylish and sexy. Their acting is impeccable. Within its deliberately limited range, this film is a satisfying experience -- with a surprise ending that rearranges everything and makes all the talk pleasantly resonate and reshape itself in one's mind afterward.

Some Velvet Morning debuted at Tribeca and opened 10 Dec. 2013 (Internet) and 13 Dec. (limited cinema release).

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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