Roman Polanski avoided this pitfall with his 2010 film The Ghost Writer by having a protagonist ghost-write the biography of an ex-prime minister. Ewan McGregor’s character became embroiled in conspiracy in a way that felt comprehensible (as well as semi-ridiculous), and the thrills came naturally.
Polanski was also gifted, via the source novel by Robert Harris, with a twist so utterly juicy that he couldn’t help but give The Ghost Writer an unforgettable ending. His new film is also based on a novel about a writer, but whatever was either clever and/or exciting about Delphine de Vigan’s book has been lost in translation. The film is directed with taste, and Eva Green is typically magnetic, but Based on a True Story is predictable claptrap.
Delphine (Emmanuelle Seigner) is a writer who’s just found success with her latest novel – and success, apparently, is a real drag. Delphine spends her time avoiding publishers and hangers-on at parties, and signing copies of a novel that other people now have more enthusiasm for than she does. On top of that, she’s receiving anonymous (and quaintly type-written) letters that chastise her for recycling her family history as fiction, demanding money as recompense.
It’s in this harassed and faintly depressed post-novel state that Delphine meets ‘Elle’, short for Elizabeth – a name translated for the English subtitles as ‘Her’ short for Hermione. ‘Her’ is a little invasive and presumptive; but, as she’s embodied by the luminous Green, Delphine soon lets her guard down and allows this beautiful stranger into her life. It’s hard to criticise her for this, despite how dubious Her seems, because come on: Eva Green.
It turns out that Her is also a writer, again of the ghost variety, and although initially friendly it soon becomes clear that her instigation of friendship has underlying motives. She creeps her way into Delphine’s life, reorganising and eventually controlling it, even impersonating her for public appearances. This sinister insinuation continues, until finally…
Until it finishes up exactly how you’d expect. Well, almost: right at the end there is the strong suggestion of a twist – it’s about an 85% certainty, we’d say – but it’s so bad that the film is better off being dull. Or maybe the twist is that there is no twist? How appropriately meta!
The fact is that Green is effectively miscast, or too successfully cast. She’s such a diabolical feline, narrowing her eyes and appearing suddenly at windows, that the film has nothing to subvert or undermine where her character is concerned. And by being so blithely accepting of Her’s presence, Seigner’s Delphine becomes such a sucker that it’s hard to accept her as a cogent person, let alone a successful novelist.
In what was either a hefty coincidence or an example of apt background reading, the person seated next to us at the screening was reading one of Elena Ferrante’s ‘Neapolitan Novels’, another tale of autobiographical writing and female friendship. The implicit comparison did Based on a True Story no favours. Either as an uninspired psychological thriller or absurd allegory of the ‘artistic process’, Polanski’s film is a calcified cliché.
|What||Based on a True Story film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
01 Nov 17 – 01 Jan 18, Times vary
|Price||£Determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information|