Tied (Une histoire d'amour): Film Review

Tied Film Still - H 2013

Tied Film Still - H 2013

S&M drama is a painful enterprise, especially for the audience.

Laetitia Casta and Benoit Poelvoorde star in actress Helene Fillieres' first directorial effort.

PARIS -- The high-profile slaying of a French banker at the hands of his mistress is transformed into a pretentious and yawn-inducing affair in Tied (Une histoire d’amour), the debut feature from actress-turned-filmmaker Helene Fillieres. Based on a novel by Regis Jauffret -- itself inspired by the murder of financial tycoon Edouard Stern -- this impressionistic melange of violent hanky-panky and overwrought drama is hardly the best showcase for stars Laetitia Casta and Benoît Poelvoorde, and should land on late night cable after a modest release in French-speaking territories.

In 2005, the body of former Lazard Freres partner and multimillionaire magnate Stern was found in his Geneva mansion, riddled with bullets and decked out in a a full-body latex catsuit. Although numerous rumors abounded at the time, his French mistress, Cecile Brossard, wound up confessing to a “crime of passion” -- not to mention cash, since the couple had allegedly argued over a $1 million gift, which Stern complained was “expensive, for a whore.”

The incident gave rise to beaucoup press coverage and eventually, to three novels (including Jauffret’s, whose title translates to “Severe”), as well as to the Olivier Assayas film Boarding Gate, where Michael Madsen and Asia Argento played characters loosely based on the star-crossed, leather-bound lovers.

In her first stint behind the camera, writer-director Fillieres (Venus Beauty Institute) sticks close to the moody, stylized prose of the original novel, but to such a point that there’s nary a narrative at work here. Instead, Tied provides a hodgepodge of scenes leading up to the fatal act, many of them involving the S&M hijinks of an unnamed banker (Poelvoorde), his femme fatale (Casta) and an impressive collection of firearms -- one of which Casta seductively rubs on her face, in a particularly laughable sequence. (Warning: Do not use loaded handguns as sex toys. They may cause injury.)

Character motivation, emotional catharsis and, well, logic, are often tossed out the window in favor of an increasingly muddled tete-a-tete (or whatever body part-to-whatever other body part) between two people who treat one another as little more than human dildos. From the get-go, the financier verbally attacks his paramour sans merci, and his disses grow so ludicrous that he starts sounding more and more like a filthy rich, Eurotrash version of Rick Ross (Ex. They’re ordering dinner. A waitress asks: “How do you want your steak cooked?” He answers: “She’ll have it raw. Isn’t that how bitches like it?”)

Watching Belgian comic maestro Poelvoorde (Man Bites Dog, Le Grand soir) deliver such lines with a straight face is a bizarre sight indeed, and if someone had decided to insert a laugh track somewhere, the whole film could have played out like a surrealist sitcom whose running gag is the freakishly abusive relationship of its lead couple.

Alas, Tied takes itself way too seriously from start to finish, yet never really attempts to explain the why and the how. This is especially frustrating when it comes to the mogul’s main squeeze, and despite the ample eye candy offered by Corsican beauty Casta (Arbitrage), the fact that her character doesn’t head for the hills the first time her sugar daddy demands a spanking and yells, “You want my c---! You want my money!” is either a testament to her stupidity, or to a kind of longing that most people would characterize as insane.

By calling her movie “A Love Story” in French, Fillieres was perhaps hoping to show that no matter how far down the garbage disposal and/or toilet bowl Stern and Brossard decided to venture, they were in fact in love after all. Unfortunately, there is little proof of this -- or of any genuine feeling -- on screen, and the ultra-upscale décors (all of them gorgeously shot by D.P. Christophe Beaucarne) only further the suspicion that the only thing these two people were really in love with was their own bank accounts. In that case, they may have got the film they deserve.

Production companies: Albertine Productions, Samsa Film, Entre Chien et Loup, Arte France Cinema
Cast: Benoit Poelvoorde, Laetitia Casta, Richard Bohringer, Reda Kateb
Director: Helene Fillières
Screenwriters: Helene Fillières, based on the novel
Severe by Regis Jauffret
Producers: Matthieu Tarot, Jani Thiltges
Director of photography: Christophe Beaucarne
Production designer: Veronique Sacrez
Music: Ludovic Bource
Costume designer: Laurence Struz
Editor: Philippe Bourgueil
Sales Agent: Wild Bunch
No rating, 79 minutes