My son’s best friend and best man, a boy from pain, has just sent me a postcard for the first time and I am thrilled. It is on the mantelpiece and I am remembering how he once described some story of mine as “gangsta” which may not have been entirely flattering even in jest, but of course I laughed and took it that way. I have spent my life being told how tough I am but it hasn’t stopped anybody who wanted to, talking to me.
Real tears got immediate attention and kindness in my family, whether you cried because the dog died or your knee hurt. But indulge in what my lovely intense parents called “the whingy woodles” and expect no quarter. So when my adored son aged about five made that seedy keening noise, I said “Stop it, please. You have had your favourite lunch. We bought you a toy. You are not hungry or cold and please God, you never will be. Stop that noise.” The woman behind me clucked, wasn’t this a little harsh ? “Probably” I said. “And so is life. Though with luck, he’ll never know anything about it.” It is interesting to recall, looking back, even at that relatively early stage of emotional maturity, I didn’t feel I had to defend myself. I knew I loved him, he knew I loved him, we could sort it out. Don’t make that noise.
So this has been a week of the “poor me’s”, too much from people entirely old enough to know better. Poor Joan Collins, down to her last £24 million and four pieces of property. You can only live in one house at a time, you know. Whingy woodle.
And then Charlotte Rampling, famously combining (well) hidden promise with an upper lip of cast iron until now – when she starts to explain depression and disappointment while lining up parts to play, a studio to paint in, a grand apartment to live in, money in the bank. And she has had a bad time? Oh, right. Sorry about that. Same as a lot of other people then? Whingy woodle.
You will have gathered that I am not very tolerant of these women among others at any time and when they are launched into the newspapers I buy, I get cross. That version of feminism which suggests all women are wonderful, is just the flip side of male chauvinism and takes us nowhere. But usually when I rant, there isn’t a solution and this time, there is. Of course it’s a personal solution, you don’t have to agree with me but I suggest seeing Paul Verhoeven’s film Elle for several early 21st century very important reasons.
Firstly, it is not a naturalistic film. It is acted and stylised.
Secondly, because it isn’t just about men and women: it is about damage – not in a romantic highly dramatic way, but in the way of having to live with what has happened and learn what it has done to you. As we get older this is less likely to be discussed in the moonlight and more likely to be recalled in a dream or in a lonely moment over getting a glass of water in a cold house.
Thirdly it is about the cross over between saying between your teeth “I’d like to … !” and doing it, sometimes to laugh out loud good effect.
Fourthly it is about a life without much mercy. Michele (played by a tiny slender Isabelle Huppert, much of whose career has left me unmoved) has a lot to contend with and contend she does, with a mixture of good manners, ruthlessness and patience which will be familiar to grownups of any sex.
Fifthly it is intelligent. It offers you less than you think and more than you can imagine till you think about it. It is a film about what you see not being what you get. It’s about what you think – about yourself, about other people, about them with you and you with them, the very opposite of ”… and they lived happily ever after.” I don’t think the participants were happy outside the last frame. And I don’t think the director did either.
Of course now I want to know more about Mrs.Verhoeven !