Tag Archives: seduction

The Leading Man (1996)

 “I could seduce your wife.”

The Leading Man is a tasty little drama set in London and centered on the marriage of playwright Felix Webb (Lambert Wilson). As the film begins, Webb is helping cast roles for his new play, and he’s secretly having a passionate affair with young talented actress Hilary Rule (Thandie Newton). Meanwhile, his neglected wife Elena (Anna Galiena) sniffs something’s afoot, and this results in increased tension at home while Felix juggles the demands of wife, mistress and new play.

leadingEnter American actor Robin Grange (Jon Bon Jovi). He’s left Hollywood with the intention of working in theatre, but he still draws crowds of fans, autograph seekers, and potential groupies. His good looks, charisma and direct approach to women prove to be a deadly combination, and the women in the cast speculate over his talent as a bedmate. Hilary, however, isn’t interested in Robin. She’s too busy pressuring Felix to leave his wife.

Robin is a complex character. He appears to be just another pretty face, but it’s not long before he makes it clear to Felix that he knows about the affair with Hilary. Dropping hints here and there, Robin seems to be playing a strange game of cat-and-mouse. And then Robin proposes an unexpected solution. He suggests helping Felix by seducing Elena. Asserting that this is the best solution for everyone, Robin smoothly argues the case for seduction stating that a love affair will give Felix some needed space, restore Elena’s confidence and show her that Felix isn’t so necessary after all.

This bizarre turn of events is intriguing. After all, the role of cuckolded husband isn’t exactly enviable. Even adulterous husbands generally don’t want some other man sniffing around the old homestead. But while Felix is at first appalled by Robin’s suggestion, he concedes to the strategy.

The Leading Man reminds me of the domestic politics of a Woody Allen film, but without the comedy–although there are elements of dark humour. The film works so well largely due to the ambiguity of Robin’s motives. Is he malicious or ambitious? Is he truly interested in Elena, or is he out for what he can get? Ultimately this decision is wisely left up to the audience.

I read some criticisms of Jon Bon Jovi’s performance, and this seems unfair. He did an excellent job as the amoral, slippery Hollywood actor who possesses amazing powers of duplicity. This entertaining drama is from director John Duigan.

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Moliere (2007)

 “Speak to me in the language of Moliere.”

Moliere, from director Laurent Tirard is a tasty romp through 17th century France. The film’s main premise is to present the backdrop story to Moliere’s success. There are some gaps in Moliere’s history, and during a thirteen-year period, he toured in the provinces with his troupe of actors. Here, he honed his satirical skills, and gained immense popularity before establishing himself at La Salle du Petit-Bourbon in Paris. The film Moliere attempts to explain some of the murkier details about Moliere’s past by presenting a slice of his life that mirrors the elegant style and wit of his wonderful plays.

moliere1Moliere (Romain Duris) is a talented but penniless actor who finds himself thrown in jail when he cannot pay his debts. But a rich gentleman, Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini) pays for Moliere’s release. Jourdain, however, wants something in return, and he arranges for Moliere to arrive at his splendid country mansion. Jourdain, prosperous, and eager to improve himself, is in the habit of employing experts to teach him various skills. And he employs Moliere to teach him acting skills. It seems that Jourdain, although married to the deliciously lovely, Elmire (Laura Morante) is enamored with a shallow young widow, Celimene (Ludivine Sagnier). Jourdain intends to present himself at one of Celimene’s celebrated salons and impress her with a rendition of something written in her honor.

Now since Jourdain can’t tell his wife that Moliere is there to help him seduce another woman, Jourdain dresses Moliere up like a priest and tells Elmire that Moliere (now named Tartuffe) is in their home as a spiritual advisor. And here on Jourdain’s country estate, as events unfold, ‘real’ life assumes aspects of a Moliere play complete with a cuckolded husband, star-crossed lovers, and a fake kidnapping. Fans of Moliere will recognize names and plot elements of his plays, and of course, the implied idea is that Moliere’s greatest inspiration came from this episode in his early life.

Moliere, while not quite as good as the plays, is highly entertaining. The film also explores the idea of Moliere’s frustrated desire to write great tragedies, and it’s through his relationship with Elmire, that he finally realises the importance of comedy. With flawless timing, and impeccable acting, this is a witty, clever, and good-natured costume drama.

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Filed under Fabrice Luchini, France, Period Piece

Unfaithful (2002)

The Art of Seduction-Beware the man who quotes poetry!

In Unfaithful Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) is married to busy, distracted husband, Edward (Richard Gere). He owns a security company which occupies a great deal of his time, and she is the housewife who maintains the beautiful house in the country, and juggles such stressful issues as fundraising, and car-pooling their only child.

On a shopping expedition in New York, circumstances lead Connie to bump into Paul Martel–literally. He is young, looks like a male model, and cashing in on his French accent, he invites Connie into his bachelor lair. Connie is a bit naive–that’s obvious, but even she cannot completely ignore the flagrant messages Paul sends her way. Paul, who claims to be a bookseller, offers to give Connie a small souvenir of their chance encounter. When he directs Connie to a particular book shelf, to a specific book, gives her the page number to turn to, and then starts quoting poetry, it’s quite clear that Paul isn’t quite the innocuous bookseller he claims to be, but rather he is a practiced seducer. But it’s too much too fast, and Connie exits–runs is a closer description.

Connie can’t forget Paul, and soon thoughts of his physicality invade her everyday domestic life. Connie returns to Paul with some flimsy pretense to explain their renewed contact. A game of cat and mouse ensues, and by degrees, Connie begins her slippery slide to adultery. She is too tantalized and mesmerised by Paul to think of little else, ignores all the warning signs, and doesn’t stop to seriously consider the consequences of her actions. Soon it becomes obvious to her husband (his area of expertise is security, remember) that Connie is distracted by something–or someone.

This was the best role I have ever seen Richard Gere play, and Diane Lane (one of my favourites) was simply incredible. This film really does a spectacular job of laying the foundations of human nature with the three main characters, Edward, Connie and Paul. Connie has everything a woman is supposed to want–a loving devoted husband, financial security, a beautiful home etc., but she’s on a tedious, boring, treadmill, and she has the looks, means and the time to get in trouble. Edward is busy–too busy–providing all those goodies for Connie. He makes the mistake of being a husband and a provider rather than a lover, and while he vacates this role, Paul is happy to take it. The film displays the culture of adultery unflinchingly. Connie discovers that small attentions from a complete stranger are seductive and outweigh complete devotion from her spouse. There is an evitability in this film which parallels the inevitability of Connie’s submission to Paul’s practiced, subtle assaults. While the film doesn’t make any overt moral statements against adultery, nonetheless, it does illustrate the incredible pain, futility, and destruction suffered by all those involved, and the film remains one of the best statements I’ve ever seen on the subject. Unfaithful is a remake of the Claude Chabrol film, La Femme Infidele, and while I liked the French version, this is a rare instance in which I prefer the remake. From director Adrian Lyne.

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La Discrete (1990)

 “I tire rather quickly of people.”

In the French film La Discrete, Antoine (Fabrice Luchini) is a would-be novelist. Antoine is at loose ends after a sudden break-up with his long-time girlfriend, Solange, and he mentions to his friend, Jean, that he wants revenge. Jean, a bookseller, and a publisher of erotica suggests that Antoine select, seduce, and dump a random woman. Jean encourages Antoine to keep a diary of the affair–with the intention of seeking publication of all the salacious details.

la-discreteAntoine, who is a bit of a misogynist, considers this an excellent idea. With Jean’s coaching, he creates an advertisement for a typist. The applicant will become the victim of Antoine’s plan, and she will also be the protagonist of the diary-form novel.

Antoine speculates about the woman who will respond to his ad. He is severely disappointed when shy, skinny, quiet Catherine applies. Of course, on one hand, she seems the perfect victim. But on the other hand, Antoine finds Catherine rather too plain. He tends to fall for flashier women. Antoine, however, goaded by Jean, proceeds with the plan….

Naturally, many moral questions arise as the film develops. Antoine has an agenda, and he already has a chip on his shoulder. Thanks to the deliciously clever script, Antoine–who could easily be perceived as an unlikable rogue–seems way out of his depth. Catherine is so quiet, controlled, and self-contained, Antoine begins to wonder if she possesses hidden depths of licentiousness. Fabrice Luchini plays the role of Antoine–he’s an incredibly talented actor–usually playing supporting roles which capitalize on his intellectualism. In La Discrete Antoine fancies himself as a ladies’ man, he considers himself far more sophisticated than Catherine–whom he labels “provincial.” Catherine–both the object and the prize–is nonetheless a sentient being with very strong ideas. Antoine objectifies Catherine as he pursues his less-than-admirable goal, but he also objectifies Manu–Jean’s unattractive lumbering assistant. Antoine’s self-centeredness seems to disallow consideration of others, but his relationship with Catherine causes him to gain the introspection he never knew he lacked. La Discrete is a prime example of all that’s best in French film–fine acting combined with an extraordinarily clever and provocative script that provides much food for thought. Antoine says, “there are certain encounters, dates, moments that mark you forever.” Directed by Christian Vincent.

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Filed under Fabrice Luchini, France

Clarissa (1991)

 “The only real dishonour is compromise and self-betrayal.”

Set in 18th century England, the magnificent BBC television series Clarissa follows the trials and tribulations of Clarissa Harlowe. Clarissa (Saskia Wickham) is a good daughter–virtuous, honest, and obedient. She’s also her grandfather’s favourite, and she inherits his estate after his death. Clarissa, trusting the wisdom and guidance of her parents, hands over her fortune to her father’s care. When the film begins, notorious rake Richard Lovelace (Sean Bean) is courting Clarissa’s sister Bella (Lynsey Baxter). Lovelace spies Clarissa with her “implacable virtue–like ice” for the first time, and he promptly drops Bella and begins pursing Clarissa. In spite of the fact that Clarissa doesn’t encourage Lovelace, Bella’s jealousy causes her to form an unholy alliance with her sullen brother, James (Jonathan Phillips). James and Bella both loathe Clarissa and plot her downfall.

clarissaUp until this point, the Harlowe family does not object to Lovelace dancing attendance on Bella. But when Lovelace shifts his attention to Clarissa, James and Bella push for Clarissa’s arranged marriage to a cretinous nobleman. Clarissa is horrified at the prospect and refuses to bend to her parents’ will. Kept a prisoner in her home until she agrees to marry, Clarissa finally turns to Lovelace for help ….

Richard Lovelace is one of the greatest creations in English literature, and this film adaptation brings alive this complicated character with all his wit, wile, and wickedness. To Lovelace, hunting and seducing innocent young women is sport. The more virtuous the woman, then the better the game. Lovelace seems to have met his challenge in Clarissa, and he’s forced to invent new tricks to seduce her. Quoting from The Rake’s Progress, Lovelace describes the moral and physical obstacles barring him from Clarissa to his friend, Jack (Sean Pertwee) as he plots her seduction. These meetings with Jack serve to illustrate Lovelace’s naked, evil intentions. The women Lovelace seduces and uses for sport are often permanently damaged, and he tragically miscalculates both Clarissa’s moral authority and her deep sensibilities. Possessing the nature of an angel doesn’t spare Clarissa from suffering cruel behaviour, mistreatment, and neglect from all who know her. While her virtue helps sustain her, it certainly doesn’t save her or prepare her for the misfortunes she faces in a cruel disinterested world.

In the wrong hands, a superficial film adaptation of the Samuel Richardson novel could easily be a disaster. Clarissa is–in many ways–an unsatisfying heroine. She takes little action and is usually acted upon as the plot twists and turns. A badly written script could create Clarissa as a hysterical ninny. In this production, however both Clarissa and Lovelace are highly nuanced characters. They are opposites in many ways–their moral views, for example. But at the same time, they also possess some similar character traits. She is the unbending embodiment of virtue and morality, and he is completely unrelentingly amoral. Lovelace’s ego will not allow him to accept anything less than willing surrender, and Clarissa’s ego toys with the idea that perhaps she can ‘save’ Lovelace. The film is a sumptuous treat for lovers of BBC period drama–it contains all the elements of a great romance (an heiress, an elopement, sword fights), but tosses aside all notions of such stuff and deals, instead with wicked machinations, pride, and the dark side of human nature. From director Robert Bierman.


Filed under British television, Period Piece

Don Juan (1998)

“Hypocrisy is a fashionable vice.”

The legend of Don Juan makes fascinating fodder for fiction and cinema, and this French production, directed by Jacques Weber is an excellent version of the tale. Don Juan is set in seventeenth century Spain, and when the film begins, Don Juan (Jacques Weber) and his loyal, long-suffering valet Sganarelle (Michel Boujenah) are traveling across Spain. In pursuit are the revenge-driven brothers of Don Juan’s latest victim, Dona Elvira (Emmanuelle Beart). Elvira was, apparently, convent-bound when Don Juan seduced and abandoned her. Elvira tracks Don Juan and confronts him, and when he coldly dismisses her, she curses him.

After abandoning Dona Elvira, Don Juan sets out by boat to kidnap a beautiful girl he’s noticed, but when he’s shipwrecked, he instead contents himself with seducing two peasant women. This part of the film is the lightest sequence, and Don Juan manages to juggle Mathurine (Penelope Cruz) and Charlotte (Adriana Gil) by promising to marry both of them. Sganarelle witnesses his master’s actions, and while he doesn’t approve and tries to warn the women, he doesn’t want to jeopardize his position with Don Juan.

The film’s focus is on Don Juan’s moral corruption. This version of the legend presents Don Juan as a middle-aged, corpulent, and repugnant individual who callously rejects and discards the women he seduces. He is an embarrassment to his class, and he is unabashedly unapologetic for his actions. There are no niceties about Don Juan, and neither, perhaps surprisingly, are there any scenes of sex. The story presents Don Juan at the close of his promiscuous career, and his physical condition seems to be the end result of a life of self-indulgence and debauchery.

Seducers understand women, and while many legendary seducers can be accused of ‘loving’ too many women (Casanova, for example), this cannot be said of the film’s depiction of Don Juan. To him, seduction is a mental exercise–a game to be played only once with a woman who catches his fancy. After seduction “the best of passion is spent”, and it’s time to move on. There’s a viciousness to the pleasure he gains from his actions: “spite kindled by desire.” Don Juan’s moral decay is complete when he slides into hypocrisy in the final stage, and much to Sganarelle’s dismay, hypocrisy debases Don Juan even further. Don Juan’s speeches yield much food for thought, and like all good French films, Don Juan continues to evoke thought long after its conclusion. In French with English subtitles.

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Adam Bede (1991)

“A man has other feelings than what he owes his mother.”

Adam Bede is a fine example of the British pastoral novel, and while it is not considered one of George Eliot’s best novels (Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda), this BBC television production is excellent entertainment. The story, set in rural 19th century England, is a simple one: young Adam Bede (Iain Glen) loves Hetty Sorrell (Patsy Kensit) who lives with her aunt and uncle, the Poysers on a farm. The Poysers hope for a match between Adam and Hetty, and Adam is encouraged to think that Hetty might accept him as a husband. However, Hetty, who is shallow and vain, sets her sights on wealthy, upper class Arthur Donnithorne (James Wilby).

While social expectations and class divisions both play large roles here, Hetty seems almost oblivious to class differences. When she sets her sights on Donnithorne, she genuinely believes that he’ll marry her, and it doesn’t occur to her that class might be an issue. On one hand she imagines that she can become Donnithorne’s wife, but at another point, she tells the Poysers she wants to serve as a maid somewhere. This latter decision horrifies Mr. Poyser, who’s fiercely independent. He sees that Hetty’s entry into the servant class would be a step down. But Hetty’s seeming-obliviousness to class distinctions (her ambitions towards Donnithorne, and her desire to ‘escape’ as a maid) are extensions of her vanity. She believes that her looks will overcome class barriers, and of course, like many girls who have thought the same thing, Hetty discovers the hard way that her beauty really doesn’t mean a great deal.

Based on a true story related to George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) by her aunt, a Methodist preacher, the film plots Hetty’s actions and their disastrous consequences. While this is obviously not a high budget production, the sets and the settings are incredibly authentic, resulting in an excellent, well-acted tale of tragedy, betrayal, and lost love. One scene grants a private glimpse into Hetty’s secret thoughts as she preens and poses, practicing flirtatious looks in a mirror, and this subtle scene, weaved into the everyday life at the Poysers, reveals Hetty’s character and the path to tragedy. Dinah Morris (Susannah Harker), Hetty’s cousin, is a serious, kind, and deeply spiritual character who intuitively predicts Hetty’s future troubles, but is powerless to intervene in the tragedy that unfolds. Directed by Giles Foster.

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Red Dust (1932)

 “This woman is decent. Stop running around half naked.”

red1Red Dust is one of the six films that Clark Gable and Jean Harlow made together. It’s set in the jungles of Indochina, and Gable is Dennis Carson, a lonely and frequently grumpy bachelor who runs a rubber plantation. Carson returns home one day to find prostitute Vantine Jefferson (Jean Harlow) in one of his bedrooms. She’s traveled to the heart of the jungle along with one of Carson’s drunken employees, and she intends to hide out from the Saigon authorities until things ‘cool down’. Carson quickly discovers how impossible it is to ignore Vantine–even though he tries his best. Vantine spends her first evening at Carson’s squabbling with her reluctant host over the merits of Roquefort cheese, and with undeniable chemistry between them, they rapidly strike up a relationship.

Carson’s new employee Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) arrives with his ladylike bride Barbara (Mary Astor) on the same boat that is to take Vantine back to Saigon. Vantine seems to want to just carry away her good memories, but Carson crassly insists on paying her for her ‘friendliness’ towards him. With Vantine out of the picture, Carson rapidly becomes enamored with Barbara, and he invents excuses to get rid of her hubbie, so he can seduce her in private. Vantine’s unexpected arrival back at Carson’s jungle quarters spoils–but doesn’t halt–Carson’s calculated seduction of Barbara.

Red Dust is Harlow’s film. She’s just magnificent as the sarcastic, unsentimental wisecracking floozy, Vantine. World-weary and more than a little shopworn, she’s the complete opposite of delicate, pampered, insipid Barbara. And it’s more than a bit galling for Vantine to see Carson scrambling to cater to Barbara’s every whim. Clark Gable is splendid as the bounder who can’t keep his hands off of Barbara, and her unavailability and unsuitability just seem to egg him on. This pre-code film isn’t particularly shy about showing Carson as the colonial exploiter who whacks the natives around while calling them ‘slugs’. Within the first five minutes of the film, he beats the natives and slaps a drunk silly. Red Dust was remade as Mogambo years later with Clark Gable in the same role.

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Cobra (1925)

“Women fascinate me–just like that Cobra and its victim.”

The silent film Cobra directed by Joseph Henabery is a perfect vehicle for Rudolf Valentino. In the film, Count Torriano (Valentino) is an incorrigible Don Juan who cannot help himself when it comes to relationships with women. Interestingly, Torriano’s moral redemption finally arrives through his friendship with a man.

The film begins in Italy with the father of a young woman seeking recompense against Count Torriani (Valentino). The father mistakenly confronts American antique merchant Jack Dorning (Casson Ferguson) instead, and this leads to a friendship between the Count and Dorning. While Count Torriani bemoans the fact that women won’t leave him alone, Dorning offers him a job in America. Working for Dorning’s antique business will give the impoverished count an income and steer him away from women. Well that’s the idea, anyway.

The film casts Valentino as the victim of a series of rapacious women, and just like anyone with an addiction, he can’t help himself. At one point the Count compares himself to the victim of a Cobra’s hypnotic stare, and the Cobra represents the alluring female sex. The film plays this idea of Valentino as the victim, the crushed misunderstood hero who is used and abused by nasty women, but Valentino could just as well have cast as a heartless seducer who sees women as disposable objects. This is a splendid vehicle for Valentino as the film allows scope him to appear simultaneously heroic and dastardly, and of course, the idea that he can’t help himself when it comes to women certainly adds fuel to the fire. Dorning’s wife Elise (Nita Naldi) plays the serpentine vamp who tests Torriani’s moral fibre. It’s Valentino’s respect and loyalty for Dorning that causes Valentino to make the ultimate sacrifice.

There’s a pervasive sadness throughout the film, and this tone matches Torriano’s sense of regret–a sense that’s delicately hinted at but never explored. Cobra was made just a year before Valentino’s death, and his acting skills are mature and well honed. Valentino’s subtle glances and facial expressions capture Torriano’s sense of lost possibilities, and the film’s strong moral tone underscores the fact that our actions carry consequences.

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Filed under Rudolf Valentino, Silent