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The Counselor  de Ridley Scott

Let me explain.

7.9

Cartel de Ridley Scott est sorti en DVD et Blu-Ray le 19 mars, sous forme d’une director’s cut augmentée de 20 minutes. On en profite pour publier une version de notre texte d’octobre dernier (celui-ci : http://independencia.fr/revue/spip....), formatée pour l’international, so to speak. Merci à Adélie Klein pour la traduction.

In The Counselor, Michael Fassbender gives way to his addiction, blames himself and ends up in tears. This is a typical variation of Shame although here, porn is replaced by drug dealing. But before everything goes wrong, the counsellor proposes to Laura – the curvy and ravishing Penelope Cruz. Giving way to sweet narcissism, she congratulates him.

It means that you have impeccable taste... Sorry. I shouldn’ t have said that.

But you can’t take it back.

Here lies the most subtle manifestation of the note reigning over every chord played by the great organist Scott in The Counselor. Cormac McCarthy -producing his first scenario- never relies on hope, unlike many writers whose works are transferred to the screen : James Ellroy, Stephen King among others. Their world is that of tragedies that feed on human destinies.

When the Coen brothers were inspired by Cormac McCarthy to write No Country for Old Men, the osmosis was perfect between the two directors’ permanent sarcasm and the writer’s fatalistic philosophy. Besides, The Counselor was released only a week after Inside Llewyn Davis, their latest film. Both films could not be more opposed in their form ; yet they both depict losers in a universe bigger than they are, which despises them and the top of which they’ll never be able to reach despite their best efforts. The foundation of this disillusioned Hollywoodian aesthetic, is Brad Pitt. Having been the sensitive spot in one of the latest film of the Coen brothers, in The Counselor he returns to the role of a Mephistophelean mentor he already had in the adaptation of another Cormac McCarthy like dark story : Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuck.

Besides, Scott shows a sense of humour in making Brad Pitt appear in The Counselor with black eye, underlining the fact that it is the very same Tyler Durden with a swollen face travelling from one film to the other. To make this cartography of nihilism complete - nihilism which has found a new ground in The Counselor - we must mention David Fincher, whose last film, Millenium, crushed its characters (and their cats), and above all locked them into a harsh and meticulous representation of the world... with a real Ridley Scott lookalike photography. Talk about a cartel here.

Even though Scott has often collaborated with excellent scriptwriters, the dialogue is not the strong point of his films. Similarly to The Social Network - marking the encounter between Fincher and Sorkin – or Lincoln - the Spielberg movie written by Tony Kushner - The Counselor is, above all, a long-winded film shot by a visual director. Here, the light’s chiselling and the shots’ rigorous structure find their ideal counterpoint in the dryness of the dialogue. This is precisely what gives a taste to the rather clammy opening scene, where an outward softness – the camera on Penelope Cruz’s belly or under Fassbender’s hand – and their short conversation, a dull violence hiding behind their affection, are opposed ; where orders, power struggles, unspoken resentments and the almighty strength of pleasure loiter. In The Road, which owed McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize in 2006, conversation is written down in a way resulting in the disappearance of all punctation. Look at the dryness of the page : you can see only lines listed one after the other, often very short. This briefness results in a violence which is conveyed by the feeling of inexorability withheld in those lines : nothing slows down the words’ pace, that go from one mouth to another like an unpinned grenade between two tennis players.

In The Road, one of the sentences went like that : “Once your eyes have seen something, you’ll never be able to unsee it”, says the father to his son, advising him not to look upon another horror. This sentence seems to be meant for Ridley Scott, whose aesthetic could be summed up by scenes where terrible faces are revealed : in Hannibal, the camera creeps gradually closer to a mutilated face. In Kingdom of Heaven, a mask is slowly removed ; in Prometheus it is removed even faster. In The Counselor, the severed head of the biker falls from the crash helmet like a turd.

From Hannibal to The Counselor, the veils tend to disappear, and the revelation is increasingly brutal, increasingly dry - just as McCarthy would write it. This quotation from The Road can also be applied to the boss played by Jarvier Bardem in The Counselor : he cannot refrain from recounting the traumatic experience he suffered when seeing the stupefying display of his girlfriend Malkina’s genitalia, her legs wide spread against the windscreen as she masturbates on it for him.

”Why are you telling me this ?” asks the Counselor.

”I don’t know” answers Bardem. “Forget it”.

”How am I supposed to forget such a thing ?” retorts Fassbender.

Too late, the damage is done, once more. What Bardem saw – crushed against a window as if under a microscope, sex as the cause for the fall of all men – is at the bottom of Pandora’s Box, a real black eye, far from the delicacy that is Cruz’s vagina in the opening scene. This time, the fierce beast of Alien or Promotheus is human, blond, played by Cameron Diaz. She still strikes blindly. Herein lies the final sophistication of nihilism as presented by McCarthy : to imagine that all those ordeals come from that particular black hole, as if Fassbender’s Shame turned out to be universal.

Thereafter, the world’s no longer controlled by men or women, it’s simply dominated by women’s sexual organ. They are not even women’s sexual organs but a kind of alien, grafted on some people – in fact, Malkina, her legs widespread against Bardem’s windscreen, reminds of Alien’s facehugger, spreading its leg upon the face of its preys to inject its lethal seeds. We then recall another concurrent of The Counselor in the releases’ schedule, Polanski’s Venus in Furs, a study of the sadomasochistic relationships between individuals and lovers, and in particular this quote by Sacher-Masoch :

"Woman, as Nature has created her and as she is currently reared by man, is his enemy and can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. She will be able to become his companion only when she has the same rights as he, when she is his equal in education and work."

The Counselor opposes two women’s reactions to a world officially controlled by men. One of the film’s key-scenes shows Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz chatting beside a swimming pool, their backs naked. The first is a trophy, her back is white, she’s been bought with diamonds by her future husband, the counsellor, and her fate is to be destroyed by his mistakes. The second one’s a predator, with panther spots tattooed on her back, and her own destiny is to take advantage of her boyfriend’s mistakes (Bardem) in order to destroy him. Slave, or tyrant.

At this point, McCarthy’s nihilism reveals its bright face : the world’s only option is to crush people as long as balance is not established between sexes. Had she not been such a slave, Cruz could without a doubt have escaped. Had she not been such a tyrant, Diaz wouldn’t have been forced to change herself into a soulless predator, hypnotising her prey by showing her vulva.

Beheading is a huge part of the film – it’s indeed shown several times – because it’s the result of asexuality by excellence. Beheading means depriving a body of its individuality : nobody’s able to identify the young biker who’s been assassinated, by only seeing his cock. Is there a better way to demonstrate sexualization’s pointlessness ? Beheading means separating the head from the body, creating plain corpses in which gender questions are no longer related to identity. This is the favourite method of execution of the cartel which, between the hands of Thelma and Louise’s director, does not just deals with drug issues.

In The Counselor, the actual representation of inevitability and of the stubborn stupidity of fate is one of the weapons used to behead ; and its mechanism’s explained at length by the character who end up one of its victim. A cable is coiled around the neck, then slowly rewinding back into its case, and there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it from getting tighter, cutting the carotid, and so on. The Counselor has no interest in drugs, nor in the diamond business. The most important scenes are those in which a wild mechanism’s at play : the one where cheetahs go after rabbits, the one with a cable tightening around a neck, the other one when another cable’s carefully tight above a road to decapitate a biker, or the one in which poor people rush towards a corpse to run through its pockets once its dead, themselves defeated by a superior mechanism, sumptuously coming out of a car, as white as a shroud : two cheetahs, once more.

Eventually, what matters the most is not the representation of the Crusades, of Ancient Rome, or Robin Hood anymore : it is that of grief. We’ll probably never know in what way the filming’s interruption for Tony Scott’s funeral influenced its post-production ; but what we have here is the work of a director true to his stoicism, seeing it roughly put to the test. The final dialogue, which shows pain giving a phonecall to serenity, appears to be a perfect illustration of this : a true dialogue within the mind. Fassbender - tearful, eaten up by guilt, his snot mingling with his tears like another Exarchopoulos - is filmed in close-up. He’s on the phone, talking to a man who comes out from nowhere – just like the architect in Matrix Reloaded, or Wilford in SnowPiercer. He’s standing in a comfortable snooker room and explaining to his interlocutor what it’s all about : mistakes beyond repair have to be accepted. Which doesn’t mean they’re not to be taken seriously, nor that it’ll be easy to accept, or that it all makes sense. That’s the way it is. Deal with it, dealer.

There are a few interesting cuts in The Counselor. One of them goes from Cruz, who’s being kidnapped, to a bronze bust, erected next to her fiancé waiting for her in vain. The sculpted figure seems frozen in its pain, both impassive and furious. A moment later, the martyrdom of the aptly named Cruz (meaning “cross”) is carved on a DVD-R. Pain is stronger than grief, stronger than sex : it is the blade of a gladiator sword pushed through the body. The Counselor is this DVD carved in grief ; the philosopher’s answer to pure cheetahs and evil panthers, in a world that bites whenever it feels like it.

par Camille Brunel
jeudi 20 mars 2014

The Counselor Ridley Scott

États-Unis ,  2013

Avec : Michael Fassbender (L’avocat, le « Counsellor ») Penélope Cruz (Laura) ; Cameron Diaz (Malkina) ; Javier Bardem (Reiner) ; Brad Pitt (Westray) ; Rosie Perez (Ruth) ; Toby Kebbell (Tony) ; Bruno Ganz (Diamantaire).

Scénario : Cormac McCarthy

Durée : 1h51min (director’s cut : 2h12)

Sortie : 13 novembre 2013.

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