This is not quite as muddled as made out to be, but it's not any kind of Hong Kong pistol stuff that it may appear to be based on plot and cast either. It's the kind of film that presents itself as a thriller but is actually about people and the structure.
It's a two-part complex. The first part plays like an emotional upskirt peek at the tormented soul of this woman, who loved at the hands of a man who tossed and toyed her around for pleasure. She's played by Asia Argento who so effortlessly can channel sex mixed with pain - one of her early film roles after all was back in Italy for father Dario, where she falls victim to a serial rapist. We get some stuff about drugs, pistols are whipped out then forgotten again.
Now the French touch, our first pointer about what it's all really about; she becomes the character she has written about, a fictional sci-fi woman who controls men.
Tables are switched, and turns out she was really manipulating this whole time from inside the image he had been used to subdue. For the second part we fly down to Hong Kong where it threatens again to become a thriller. Pistols are whipped out again and forgotten once more. Here we come to understand that she's fallen prey to another lover controlling her for own purposes. There's another woman who is also vying for control of her strings, a sexual antagonist.
So having consummated one desire about revenge, she is not one step closer to being a free person. Her present suffering is still bound to that first violence that was a sexual desire; this is given to us as having been raped in her sleep, and so the horrible hurt of an unconscious drive, repressed, felt to be beyond any control and so any responsibility. Aptly enough, this second part is about self-discovery then; she's vulnerable for the first time, no more games or roles, conceding to flow where it may.
It is film noir as far as world dynamics go, make no mistake. To pursue desire is to be trapped helpless in a self-generating chimera.
Usually in noir that desire was codified as the femme fatale and who is here our protagonist but rendered as an image, a fictional guise, full of cracks suggesting the distraught person behind.
Finally she follows this second manipulative lover so that it can be revealed to us who was pulling the strings from behind all this time. She gets a second chance for revenge. The final image is one of poignant beauty, as blurry, out-of-focus for the world of plotting and machinations that we felt as the film, she ascends out of view liberated. She is literally no longer part of the film that was pure deceit from the start.
So for all intents and purposes, it should have been a great film about karmic cycles. It's not quite, but only because, for some reason, this was felt that should also appeal to a broad audience. So, it's filmed in a syncopated manner that is associated with TV, which makes sense in context because the camera is meant to be a frantic eye searching for things as she is, but which probably threw a curveball at those who usually expect a character study in long painterly sweeps and would be otherwise rewarded here.
It didn't help that it came out in the same year as No Country, another post-noir, much more overtly cinematic, and a host of other well-received films. So not a groundbreaking film, but see it if it shows up.
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