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REVIEW – In Your Hands (2010)

November 21, 2012

Videovista has my review of Lola Doillon’s In Your Hands, a French drama starring Kristin Scott Thomas.

I think that In Your Hands is trying to be about quite an interesting question, namely whether loneliness creates a sense of desperation that blinds people to the human failings of the people who lift them out of loneliness. The film seems to explore this idea by having a socially isolated surgeon (Scott Thomas) be kidnapped by the husband (Pio Marmai) of a woman who died on her operating table. Initially, the dynamic is pretty generic as the surgeon reveals herself to be uninterested in human suffering to the point of being completely unwilling to recognise her role in the woman’s death, let alone apologise for it. However, as the film progresses and we learn more about the character, it transpires that the husband is also socially isolated and his relationship with the surgeon is actually the only one he has.  Sounds interesting, right? The problem is that the text of the film does almost nothing to support this reading:

The problem with the film’s central theme of alienation is that it is impossible to determine whether it is something that exists in the text of the film or whether it is something that I have made up out sheer boredom. Are we supposed to attend to the fact that neither of the characters have any friends or is their lack of social connection simply the product of weak characterisation and sloppy world building? Despite being only 80 minutes long, the film contains no context for the events surrounding the kidnapping, meaning that the characters begin and end the film as impenetrable cyphers. To make matters worse, having teased the audience with the idea that kidnapper and victim might have fallen for each other because that relationship was the only one they had, Doillon refuses to either acknowledge this interpretation of events or develop the insight in any meaningful way.

As I explain in the review, post-War art house cinema has developed a style of storytelling that presents us with an ambiguous set of events and then steps back and allows us the space to make sense of these events for ourselves.  This is why art house film is so slow: those moments of people peering off into the distance are there to give you some space in which to think. The problem with this approach is that many directors have come to rely upon audience participation to the point where they no longer both to present you with any well-drawn ambiguities… they simply show you some stuff happening and then retreat into beautiful cinematography in the hope that you will invent some thematic context that makes sense of the images on the screen. An excellent example of this type of filmmaking is Eugene Green’s The Portuguese Nun, a film so boring and pretentious that it left me wanting to wring the director’s neck when I reviewed it for FilmJuice:

If one were being particularly charitable one might attempt to argue that the film constitutes some kind of meditation on the affected and staged nature of film as a medium but if Green is indeed trying to present an argument then his ideas are either insufficiently clear or insufficiently substantial to support a 127-minute film.

Much like The Portuguese Nun, In Your Hands does contain some ideas but these ideas are so insubstantial and evasively presented that they barely constitute ideas at all. This is homeopathic cinema: while an idea may once have been near the production process, that idea has now been so thoroughly diluted that its presence in the film is now largely the product of the audience’s imagination.

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