By Yong Shu Hoong
First of all, a declaration: I might have been slightly in love with Eva Green ever since she graced the big screen as Bond girl Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006). So despite some bad reviews plaguing Based on a True Story, I decided to watch this latest film of hers, which is billed as a psychological thriller and directed by Roman Polanski (perhaps a name you’d resist, given the current #MeToo climate). Oh, and it’s in French too, so you’ll get the chance to watch Green act in her native tongue.
But this is ultimately an intimate study of two characters whose lives are strangely intertwined. It’s also a story that delves into the tortured inner life of a writer, the film’s protagonist played by Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner. The antagonist is Elle, Green’s character of a mysterious fan, who comes across more as a stalker than fellow writer.
The two first meet at Delphine’s book event, right after she, overcome by fatigue and stress, has called off the signing. But Elle gets her way, eventually landing the autograph that she is after, before winning over Delphine’s friendship and worming her way into the fragile author’s life. After writing a bestselling novel based on her mother’s life, Delphine finds herself harassed by a series of anonymous letters accusing her of profiting by airing dirty laundry in public. In Elle, she finds a confidante and a pillar of strength, who not only pushes her to start writing again but also acts as a personal assistant to filter unwanted distractions.
Soon, Elle moves into the spare room of Delphine’s apartment, despite warning bells setting off in the viewers’ heads but inexplicably not in the mind of the potential victim. And later, when Delphine injures her leg in a bad fall and the two promptly drive off to a country house where she can recuperate, the film veers into the territory of Stephen King’s Misery, another story where an injured author is held captive by his No. 1 fan.
Adapted from Delphine De Vigan’s novel D’après Une Histoire Vraie by Olivier Assayas and Polanski, the film suffers some problems with suspension of disbelief, especially with regards to how trusting Delphine is with a stranger – which would come across more convincing if the author’s ulterior motive in tapping Elle for story inspiration is revealed earlier. Instead, it gives away too many hints that point towards the surprise twist at the end.
While the film doesn’t quite figure among Polanski’s best outputs, it holds sufficient intrigue, imbued with the right ambience of suspense and paranoia – thanks to Pawel Edelman’s warm cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s orchestral score. Green comes across beautiful, always, and eerily manipulative, at times, but it’s Seigner’s performance as the woman who’s on the verge of losing it that pulls it all together.
… still there’s more …