a novel previously adapted by the great Kon Ichikawa and the notorious Tinto
Brass ought to intimidate most filmmakers. Arguably, Ichikawa was perfectly
suited to convey the psychological complexity of Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s The Key, whereas Brass has a strong
handle on its sexual content. Jumping in with both feet where wiser directors
might fear to tread, Jefery Levy reconceives it as a dreamlike fantasia, with
generous nods to silent era cinema. Prepare yourself for the overload of visual
stylization in Levy’s The Key (trailer here), which screens
during the 2015 Hollywood Film Festival.
erroneous online references, Tanizaki did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but one of
the most prestigious Japanese literary awards is named in his honor, so he is
still important. To convey the epistolary nature of Tanizaki’s novel, most of
the film is relayed through the voice-over narration of a dysfunctional married
couple writing in their respective journals. They have basically have one thing
on their minds, especially Jack.
is safe to say Jack is way more into Ida than vice versa. As the film opens,
Jack resents her frigidity, even while reproaching himself for being an
inadequate lover. Ida largely confirms his unsatisfactory skills, but claims to
have mixed feelings about him overall. After all, they live in opulent
splendor, nestled in the Hollywood Hills. They also have a grown daughter who
still lives on the estate, resenting Jack for being weak and her mother for
being more beautiful than her.
they both keep diaries, Jack and Ida each deliberately write assuming the other
reading, while making a show of not stooping to such an invasive low themselves—or
so they claim. Exploiting Ida’s fondness for wine, Jack starts regularly
exploiting her during the stupors he encourages, yet he half-suspects she might
actually be conscious and passing judgement the entire time. To indulge his
emotional masochism, he also pushes her into having an affair with his young
assistant Kim (a dude, whose name is derived from Kimura).
you enjoy deliberate over-exposure, faux distressed film stock, and the
juxtaposition of color and black-and-white cinematography, than The Key just might be your aesthetic
ideal. However, if you would prefer a smooth viewing experience, The Key will drive you to distraction
with its never ending trick bag of visual distortions and pretentiously arty
camera angles. Levy and cinematographer William MacCollum are not exactly Orson
Welles and Gregg Toland, but there is something tragically compelling about
their over-reaching ambition.
Levy takes Tanizaki’s celebrated novel and turns it into purple prose. Still,
somehow David Arquette and Bai Ling deliver their narration with level voices,
in all scrupulous earnestness. Frankly, Ling has some surprisingly potent
moments, giving a hint of what she might have done had better roles been
available when she first made a name for herself. She also has absolutely no
fear or self-consciousness when it comes to playing Ida’s more physically and
psychologically revealing sequences. In contrast, the awkward Arquette never
looks right as the dissipated Jack, sticking out like Deputy Dewey in his
straight dramatic scenes.
Key could be considered the Calvin Klein commercial
Guy Maddin never made. It fancies itself an avant-garde exploration of
sexuality and codependency, but it has the maturity of Verhoeven’s Showgirls. Almost worth seeing just to
confirm it exists, The Key screens this
Sunday (9/27), as part of this year’s Hollywood Film Festival.
Labels: Bai Ling, HFF '15, Jun'ichiro Tanizaki