After making waves last year in Paul Verhoeven’s revenge thriller Elle, Isabelle Huppert once again finds herself the headliner in a psychological thriller, this time as the brusque femme fatale Eva. As you would expect, Huppert is captivating, although while her performance will no doubt help with securing distribution and ticket sales, it surprisingly ends up undermining the film’s central conceit.
That’s not to say she is solely responsible for Eva’s shortcomings – far from it. Incoherent and at times actively soporific, Eva stumbles between its ideas, failing to commit to any real direction. The most promising elements are abandoned and an overall lack of drive hampers any tension built up by the two excellent lead performances. Huppert is indomitable as Eva, but Gaspard Ulliel holds his own, even if his fraudulent manipulator Bertrand slips into a cartoonish level of evil on occasion (the costume designer overuses the black turtleneck). Bertrand’s fiance offers the only light in this sea of unlikable fiends, and Julia Roy tries her best to make a role out of her small part, but Eva never allows her the chance, sidelining her arc and character.
Eva eventually establishes itself as a battle of two scheming foes, but this structure is contradicted by Huppert’s performance, who plays Eva not as an ensnaring temptress but as a busy woman making the best of a bad situation. Subsequently Bertrand and Eva’s “games” aren’t so much chess masters circling as a playground bully picking on the girl he has a crush on.
Eva hints at a range of intriguing concepts, and plays up its vagaries to allow for a range of interpretations, but ultimately the film isn’t as interesting as it thinks, and certainly doesn’t warrant the effort of combing through its befuddled and contrary messages in search of clarity.
CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Gaspard Ulliel, Julia Roy, Richard Berry
DIRECTOR: Benoît Jacquot
WRITERS: Benoît Jacquot, Gilles Taurand (screenplay), James Hadley Chase (novel)
SYNOPSIS: A playwright encounters a mysterious woman when he takes shelter in a chalet during a violent snowstorm.