In film noir, the character of the nightclub singer holds a special allure. She’s an unabashed libertine, functioning outside the boundaries of conventional behavior: aloof, coolly confident, yet attainable by the few willing to pay the price for her dangerous affections.
Look back at that first great wave of noir in the 1940s: Those films were often love triangles dressed up with crime, the femmes fatales creatures whose sexuality was considered as dangerous as their greed. In director Sande Zeig’s feature debut, the nightclub singer (Claire Keim) is The Girl, the elusive focus of a tale of obsessive love that both embraces and dissects film-noir conventions.
The Girl began as a short story by noted French author and theoretician Monique Wittig (her first written in English, which is also the primary language of the film’s dialogue). The script, co-written by Wittig and Zeig (an influential distributor of independent films), is as elegantly spare as the quiet Parisian streets where the film’s narrator (Agathe de La Boulaye) walks during her contemplative morning-afters.
That narrator, a painter who favors stylish men’s clothing, is pursuing a frankly sexual relationship with the nightclub singer under the watchful eye of a jealous, possessive man (Cyril Lecomte). The painter is drawn to the enigmatic nature of the singer, whose favorite expressions (Who cares? Why not?) can’t mask her intense desires. Add to this dangerous triangle a compassionate fourth corner: the painter’s steadfast lover, Bu Savé (Sandra N’Kake), whose emotional commitment goes beyond sexual jealousy.
Using a naturalistic style and a clean, unfussy visual palette, director Zeig takes the cinematically familiar city of Paris and gradually transforms it to reflect the painter’s subjective view, turning solid beauty into the shimmering ephemera of art. But the most fascinating decision by Witting and Zeig is to make the lead character a woman. This role is usually male, and often that of a patsy blinded by raw lust. But here, she’s an introspective narrator, able to contemplate her own behavior even as she’s stunned by her actions.
The violence in The Girl arises not from an inherently corrupt society but from individuals, their casual cruelty and stubborn determination to defy expectations. In their hands, love is a loaded gun.
Opens Friday, Oct. 5, at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].