The world may have nearly forgotten the pulpy thrillers of James Hadley Chase, but filmmakers around the world are still in love with his stories and characters, because the adaptations never stop rolling off.
His 1945 ‘Eve’, all about a slimy handsome fellow working his way up the rungs in post-war Hollywood, turns up as the freshly minted Eva directed by Benoit Jacquot, in the Competition section.
Anything with the marvellous Isabelle Huppert, fresh off her Elle triumph, is worth watching. And this Eva also has top-reigning French eye-candy Gaspard Ulliel, as a toyboy who steals a play ( literally lifting off the papers off a dying man’s desk) and becomes a much feted celebrity. His fame is instant, but threatens to be short-lived : his agent goads him for a second book, his girlfriend is getting increasingly impatient with his meandering ways. He needs inspiration, and that shows up in the shape of a high-class call girl, played by Huppert.
Nowhere else but in French cinema would a clearly middle-aged woman, however coolly elegant she may be, be given a role like this one, and Huppert plays Eva to the hilt. Her reasons for doing what she does lie in a prison cell, but she’s not telling. And questing author Bertrand looks upon her as a muse, but he’s not telling either. And in between, is Bertrand’s girlfriend and his agent, waiting for him to deliver.
Which is exactly the problem with the film. It has an interesting first act, and we see why Ulliel is such a draw : he makes evil so good-looking. And Huppert does the little things — a slight turn of the head, a fleeting look — which make her such a compelling performer. Sadly, though, the film is not terribly compelling : we never quite know just why a strong woman like Eva allows the beautiful-but-wimpish Bertand so much leeway. Is it that she likes beautiful wimps? Then why is the thing between them quite so slack? If you want real frisson, I suggest you see the ‘62 version with Jeanne Moreau, in all its heavy-lidded steaminess. Or, better still, dig out the novel. And read.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the busy press section, is the equally bustling European Film Market (EFM), where the Indian delegation, led by producer-director Karan Johar, has been busy talking up the Indian film industry. Among the other participants are festival favourites Shaji N Karun and Jahnu Barua, and upcoming Bollywood actor Bhumi Pednekar.
“Just because one Lunchbox was such a break-out film globally for the Indian film industry doesn’t mean that we automatically get a pass in the global markets,” says Johar ( who presented Lunchbox) when we catch up briefly. “We need to strengthen distribution strategies for our new-age cinema, and for that we need to be out there, much more visible than we are now”.
Johar himself cuts quite a visible figure at the Berlinale, and talks laughingly of the year he was here with Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra for the premiere of Don 2, ( the film opened the festival in 2011) and how hordes of screaming fans lined up for SRK, waiting to mob him.
Superstars are all very well, but for real traction, films need to sell. It’s begun, and Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra is a genuine global breakout. But overall, it’s going to be a long haul.