Noir City International (Virtual) Film Festival: Saturday Marathon part two: LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN and THE HOUSEMAID

The second half of yesterday’s big marathon featured a “Bitches Be Crazy” double feature with a side order of feticide. Let’s start with LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN.

I find it hard to believe that I haven’t written this one up yet, since I could have sworn I saw it at some point in Noir City. I’ve also seen it about a dozen times on my own, which may be where that notion came from.

Anyway, a naive novelist falls for a pretty girl he sees reading his book on a train. Before he knows it, he’s in over his head with a toxic, controlling daddy’s girl who will stop at nothing to have him all to herself. Including murder.

To be fair, that girl is Gene Tierney, one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, so you can hardly blame him.

Even though it was shot in lush technicolor, this film has definitely got cold noir bones under its overheated, melodramatic skin. Tierney’s Ellen is an unforgettable star in the Femme Fatale firmament. I mean, just look at those murder glasses!

Ellen is a malevolent force of nature with minimal interiority who, like many of her Femme Fatale sisters from this era, feels more like an utterly nuance-free caricature written by men for the purpose of scaring other men. And within this category of evil women, the “crazy bitch” is my least favorite archetype. Not to mention the fact that Tierney herself actually struggled with mental health issues in real life, which adds another layer to my complex feelings about this flick.

All that being said, you should definitely see it. Though it wouldn’t hurt to turn it off right before the gratuitously happy “women’s picture” ending.

Speaking of crazy bitches…

Yeah, so THE HOUSEMAID.

I’ve seen and written this one up already so here’s my thoughts from the first time around:

Holy shit, Faustketeers.

A piano teacher hires a strange, chain-smoking maid to help his overworked wife take care of their rat-infested suburban house and their two kids, a monstrous, bratty son and a morose, crippled daughter. This is Noir City, so needless to say, things do not go well.

This film is absolutely fucking bananas in the best possible way. Bong Joon Ho says that it inspired PARASITE and you can see why. It’s full of sly, black humor and biting social commentary, a lot of which probably sailed right over my modern American head. It’s also violent, even gory, and sexual in an overt and explicit way that is rarely seen in Noir City. Eun-shim Lee is unforgettable as the titular housemaid. She manages to make her character both ferociously sexy and viscerally repulsive while also displaying flashes of sympathetic vulnerability. A new contender for my personal Femme Fatale hall of fame.

Also, I can’t stop thinking about that creepy house. The odd, organic concrete (?) shapes on the walls, the weird stone head sticking out of the wall by the main staircase, the feeling of being trapped by sliding doors and rain-slick windows. Trapped like a poisoned rat. A feeling that is enhanced by all the claustrophobic cinematography and looming angles of the steep and deadly staircase.

No spoilers, but man, that ending is jarring. Again, this may be some kind of cultural reference that I’m missing, but I really wish the film had ended a few minutes earlier. That being said, I can’t recommend this film highly enough.

On second viewing and coming right on the heels of Tierney’s HEAVEN, it’s just as weird and wonderful as ever, but I found myself thinking more about cinematic “crazy bitches” and how they permeate our pop culture landscape all across the globe. I thought about how insecure, unstable and violent men control, gaslight, abuse and even kill women almost every day in the real world. A man acting the way Ellen does in HEAVEN would be just another Tuesday in any domestic violence shelter in the country. So is this yet another example of male writers for whom the worst imaginable thing would be for them to be treated the way men routinely treat women?

Of course, the ultimate power move in this kind of domestic violence gender reversal is the Femme Fatale’s threat to harm or kill her own fetus, an element featured in both of these films. It’s a plot twist that is both uniquely female and deeply, shockingly taboo, often used as a weapon against the impregnator.

I could probably keep on digging into this all day, but we’ve got three more films cued up for today and a long way left to go.

Next up, PALE FLOWER, RUSTY KNIFE and ASHES AND DIAMONDS. Watch along with me and join in the discussion on Twitter. See you in Noir City!

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