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Isabelle Huppert stars as a prostitute in an affair with a phony writer in psycho-sexual thriller adapted from a novel by British writer James Hadley Chase - live from the Berlinale


A French psycho-sexual thriller starring 65-year-old Isabelle Huppert playing a wealthy prostitute, with flavours of Ozon and Haneke. Sounds like the surefire recipe for a dirtylicious movie. What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot. Benoit Jacquot’s Eva has a disjointed script. Far more seriously, it lacks naughtiness. It lacks humour. There’s no zest, there’s no jest. It’s a film that blends in too many flavours, and they ultimately kill off each each other. The outcome is vapid and bland.

The beginning of the film looks promising. An elderly writer dies and his young and good-looking prostitute Bertrand (Gaspard Ulliel, best known for portraying Hannibal Lecter in Peter Webber’s Hannibal Rising, 2007) steals the manuscript of his latest play, entitled “Passwords”. Bertrand becomes rich and famous by claiming to have written the play himself. He now has a beautiful girlfriend, who suspects the authenticity of his authorship. He meets a prostitute called Eva (Isabelle Huppert), and the two begin to develop a twisted bond. Bertrand then starts writing a book (this time his own) based on his experience with Eva. He embarks on new sexual adventures in search or creative inspiration (just like Charlotte Rampling’s character in Ozon’s masterpiece Swimming Pool, 2003)

Eva has a dirty secret, too. She’s married and her husband is in jail. She works in the sex industry apparently in an attempt to pay for her husband’s lawyer fees so he can be freed on probation as soon as possible. It feels like the role was written specifically for Huppert: she’s her usual confident and subversive self, she had a BDSM instrument (just like in Haneke’s The Pianist, 1999) and she even cracks the skull of the protagonist open (just like in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle last year). Huppert is convincing enough, and she looks absolutely stunning for her age. And it’s quite fun to watch her donning a dark wig.

The major problem with Eva is that the script is too convoluted and discombobulated. The many narrative threads get lost, and instead of an ambiguous, open ending, we are left with a “what the heck just happened” type of closure. The attempts at comedy are equally ineffective. A lot of people in the theatre laughed. But they laughed at the film, not at the story. So I can tell you with confidence I wasn’t alone in my disappointment.

The film also lacks nudity (male and female). There are no genitals and no breasts, only a carefully placed sheet over the two lovers in bed. Not what you would expect from a French film about a prostitute. Perhaps the septuagenarian French director Benoit Jacquot – a regular at the Berlinale – intended for it to become an international blockbuster, so he watered down the most explicit visuals. The film is adapted from British writer James Hadley Chase’s eponymous novel. It was previously made into a film by Joseph Losey starring the late Jeanne Moreau (in 1962). I have neither read the book nor watched the previous film, so it is possible that I missed certain nuances. Still, I would recommend you avoid this movie, unless you are itching to see Huppert donning femme fatale red apocalipstick and a new wig (which is of course an entirely bona fide reason).

Eva is showing the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, and it’s vying for the major prize the Golden Bear.

By Victor Fraga - 17-02-2018

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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