REVIEW: DVD Release: Highly Strung

Film: Highly Strung
Release date: 29th March 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 96 mins
Director: Sophie Laloy
Starring: Isild Le Besco, Judith Davis
Genre: Drama
Studio: Peccadillo
Format: DVD
Country: France

Since the world was first disturbed by Fatal Attraction in 1987, the viewing public has been treated to many homages to this classic tale of obsessive love gone horribly wrong, and this film follows in what has now become something of a cinematic tradition.

The storyline, for this category of film, is unremarkable. Pretty and naive Marie (Judith Davis), from a wholesome rural family, arrives in Lyon to take up her place at the prestigious music conservatoire, and cannot believe her good fortune when she moves in to the spacious apartment of her old school friend Emma (Isild le Besco), a medical student.

At first, having overcome her wonder at Emma’s new found sophistication and enigmatic demeanour, Marie revels in their friendship, seemingly unable to perceive what the audience can, namely the growing possessiveness of Emma over her flatmate. The disapproving looks as Marie happily accepts an invitation from her friends, the sudden unwanted appearances at Marie’s conservatoire, and the initial romantic overtures from Emma seem to ring few alarm bells – until Emma makes a more predatory sexual move on Marie after an evening out.

Surprised and confused, Marie eventually shrugs her off, but as her intensity and panic over her impending conservatoire assessments loom, so an affair of sorts between the two girls develops. Marie is by turns excited and repulsed by this new experience, but Emma’s obsessive jealousy becomes unbearable, and the inevitable rows and plummeting grades follow, until the tables are turned and Marie brings a boyfriend home, flaunting her sexual relationship in Emma’s face.

As is often the case in tormented three way relationships, Emma feigns acceptance, in an attempt to hold Marie close by befriending the boyfriend. More inevitable events – Emma is driven to self harm as a desperate and deluded attempt to keep her ‘girlfriend’ – follow. The relationship continues its doomed path – to an inevitable conclusion…

Production wise this is a solid film, with good camera work, nice use of classical piano music and some strong supporting actors. However, there is absolutely nothing innovative about this film; the plot is clich├ęd, the script pedestrian and the acting mediocre. It is difficult to say whether the script is at fault or the youth of the actors, but certainly in her debut film role, Davis is incredibly irritating in her wide-eyed, open mouthed gaucheness, and le Besco simply is not intense enough for the role of mentally unstable seductress, even though in one or two of the ‘intimate’ scenes a certain sensuality is conveyed.

There is no continuity in the characterisation either – two thirds of the way through, the film seems to completely lose its way, and the volte face of the power relationship between the two girls, when Marie suddenly gains the upper hand and Emma becomes a mental wreck from the strain of it all, is lacking in subtlety and does not work. In addition, the vague allusions to the confusion Marie feels over her sexuality are too amorphous to be credible for the average audience. Apparently director Sophie Laloy had the idea for this, also her debut film, from events that happened to her as a student, but not all one’s memories can be stretched in to a full length piece of fiction, novel, film or otherwise.

It is not clear exactly which experiences she had herself, but for anyone looking for a quality lesbian storyline, this would be a poor choice, even though distributors Peccadillo have the title on their lesbian list. Nor is it the perfect choice if one is looking for a story of obsessive love - if sexual orientation is not important to you in a plot, look no further than the towering performance of Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher – that is how obsession and desire should be played.

Rather than offering a satisfactory lesbian storyline or indeed a gripping tale of obsession and its consequences, Highly Strung is more a story about the emotional immaturity of a number of people in their late teens or early twenties, and so it adds nothing new to this sub-genre. Disappointing. GR

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