Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

Join the discussion on

" It’s all just hooey. Morality disguised as fact. "
— Liam Neeson, Kinsey

MRQE Top Critic

Creed II

It's all about the importance of character and the ability to face life's challenges. —Matt Anderson (review...)

Creed II

Sponsored links

Note: This summer saw the rerelease of Betty Blue (the three-hour director’s cut, no less) from director Jean-Jacques Beineix (Diva). This winter will see a DVD release of The Jean-Jacques Beineix collection featuring six of his lesser-known films. Return to Movie Habit each week Marty Mapes reviews another film in the series.

Director Jean-Jacques Beineix returns to feature filmmaking after a series of short documentary projects. He has a new perspective, too, venturing away from obsessive passion and into black comedy.

Dead on the Couch

Sex and death mix in Michels' head
Sex and death mix in Michels’ head

A psychiatrist falls asleep on the job and doesn’t see his patient being murdered.

Michel (Jean-Hugues Anglade) is the shrink. His patient is Olga (Hélène de Fougerolles), a woman who likes to control powerful men by taunting them. She’s also a kleptomaniac. She likes pushing people’s buttons. Apparently she pushed someone’s button a little too hard.

Michel has a friend in the police, but he never quite reports the crime. His first instinct is to go to his own shrink and talk about what it all means. That’s a funnier idea than it actually plays, by the way.

More black comedy ensues as Michel hides the corpse from his other patients, whom he’s always surprised to see, as though he never expects anyone to walk through his door.

Who Goes to Bed with Whom?

The characters who populate Mortel Transfert (AKA Mortal Transfer) are a fertile crop of Freudian figures.

There is a man who hangs around the street below Michel’s office. He’s probably crazy. He says he won the lottery but went mad and burned the money. We’re never sure why he hangs around, but he seems to know a lot about the doctor and his patients — enough to know that Olga’s car has been parked on the street for a suspiciously long time.

An Asian woman cleans for Michel. She makes his coffee and never speaks. She cooks. She even sews.

Michel has a pretty girlfriend who is suspicious of his sudden change in demeanor. She would totally go to bed with him for wild, satisfying sex if only he weren’t so distracted. A later episode sees him sleep-humping a pillow instead of her — apparently he’s in a trance thinking about all the weird things going on at work — Olga, his shrink, the corpse, his car, etc.

When he finally decides to get rid of the body, he goes to the Père Lachaise cemetery and dumps her in the occupied grave of a strangler. He’s helped by a necrophiliac wannabe who is busy with his blowup doll in the cemetery when Michel arrives.

Frenchly Chauvinistic

Mortel Transfert offers a rough and tortured view of the male id. The women in this film are manipulative sex objects, whores, mothers, corpses, anorexic daughters, and demanding girlfriends who don’t respect men’s careers. The film opens and closes with paintings of women’s bodies (painted I think by the director). Both times the camera starts in extreme closeup on the crotch, then pulls out to reveal a body, but not a face in either case.

You might say the movie is misogynistic, or you might just say that it’s Frenchly chauvinistic. At least some of the women are interesting. Olga, for instance, enjoys her power over rich and influential men high in the Paris business world.

Playing the Freudian game gives a screenwriter great potential. Mortel Transfert feels very rich and dense because of it. Sex and death mix in Michel’s head with psychoanalysis and the simpler, baser desires for normalcy and comfort. But playing the Freudian game is easy, and it’s been done. Unless you can use it to say something interesting about your characters — and here Beineix walks a fine line — it’s an infertile exercise in masturbation.

If Mortel Transfert were a new release in 2009, I might find it more worth talking about, if only for the novelty. It’s one of Beineix’s more polished films, and it has a lot on its mind.

But as part of a curated retrospective of a filmmaker’s work, it fades into relative obscurity behind some of the director’s bigger successes.