Febiofest 2018 Review: Polanski’s ‘Based on a True Story’ Riffs on '90s Thrillers
One of the 1990s’ most beloved genres was the psychological thriller, in which a deranged psychopath inserts themselves into the life of an unsuspecting victim. Bad Influence, Misery, Pacific Heights, Single White Female, Unlawful Entry, and numerous other films used this premise to great success (and, typically, mixed reviews).
Twenty-five years later, this kind of thriller may no longer be in vogue. But that’s exactly what director Roman Polanski delivers in Based on a True Story, his first film since 2013’s excellent and underrated Venus in Fur.
Co-written by Polanski and Personal Shopper director Olivier Assayas, Based on a True Story stars the director’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, as Delphine Dayrieux a worn-out author on a publicity tour who can barely bring herself to sign copies of her latest book, about her deceased mother.
But she’s taken aback by one of her fans: the mysterious, elegant Elle (Eva Green) - short for Elizabeth - who bumps into her at an afterparty and initiates some intimate conversation that quickly develops into a friendship.
With literary agent husband François Vincent Perez perpetually away on business - the movie amusingly drops the names of so many high-profile authors that we wonder if something is up with him - Elle becomes Delphine’s closest companion in Paris, and even moves in with her when she’s thrown out of her own flat.
But something’s not quite right with Elle, we gather, and Delphine begins to develop her own doubts when her new houseguest bashes a non-functioning blender to pieces with a rolling pin.
When Delphine takes a tumble down the stairs and breaks her leg - making it difficult to get up to her top-floor apartment - Elle takes the pair out to her isolated cottage in the countryside. From here, things take a turn towards Stephen King’s Misery territory.
No beating around the bush: Based on a True Story is fairly obvious from the get-go, and needlessly telegraphs its climactic punches way too early. Coming from filmmakers like Polanski and Assayas, there’s no denying this film is something of a letdown.
But there’s something inherently compelling about the material, and its a treat to see this kind of trashy fare handled by a filmmaker of Polanski’s ability. Despite the predictable nature of the story, Based on a True Story is taut and suspenseful throughout.
Eva Green is perfectly cast as the dangerous femme fatale, and steals away the movie with her unbalanced-yet-alluring portrayal. We all know someone like Elle, and maybe even have a a little bit of her inside of us, too.