For those of you who have seen this and are looking for a message, I can say that the brutal facts of life, that is to say, an animal existence, will out. Whether we are talking about sexual desire and sexual release, or about reproduction--especially that--it is the fundamental animal drives that control our lives and dictate our actions.
This movie offers nothing beyond that, and it shouldn't. It is perfect as it is. There is no phony sentimentality to entice us to delusion, or any sort of Hollywood ending. There is no redemption here. There is no spirituality. There is only desire and fulfillment; desire and frustration; desire and the end of desire which comes with... The movie doesn't say.
I don't know if this makes my top ten of the nineties--I have seen a lot of movies--but it makes my most memorable. I will not forget this stark performance by Katrin Cartlidge, who plays Claire Dolan. She does not have the charisma of a great actress, and the range of what is required here is limited, but within that range she is stunning. A good part of the credit surely goes to director Lodge Kerrigan, who emphasizes the tight, washed out lines of desperation on her face, along with her intense sexual desire and the stark, rapacious environment of the urban jungle in which she plies her trade. This is a movie that might well be viewed following Pretty Woman (1990). I wonder how many people who allowed themselves to identify with Julia Roberts as a whore, would like to identify with the high class prostitute of this film. Could they even watch it?
I was mesmerized by the sharp cuts and the film verité editing, the effective use of line and shadow, sound and silence, the clean, focused camera work. Our modern cities in all their indifference--the hard concrete and steel, the harsh lighting and intrusive sounds--are captured brilliantly. The script, cut lean and without comment, surprises us by turns, and keeps us on the edge of our seat throughout. The sex scenes are raw, intense and numerous. This is not a film for the kiddies. And that is an understatement.
Vincent D'Onofrio, who is an actor of suburb balance, plays the cabby who loves women, especially perhaps those in great need of his love, and he plays his part with subtlety and control. Colm Meaney plays the psychopathic pimp, a brutal man without conscience who uses force when necessary and a kind of cheap charm when it isn't. He has the type of the animal trainer, who plies the whip and the carrot, which he uses on women. Note well how Kerrigan has ironically emphasized this despicable man's ability to reproduce himself, making him the father of four children.
If I could sum up the life that Claire Dolan leads, I would say she lives among the wolves with a burden...her sexuality. She has a flat affect, strangely bereft of normal human expression. She is a kind of woman seldom seen on the silver scene, presented without an ounce of sentimentality. She feels life most strongly through sexuality, and only smiles at the result of sexual behavior, children. There is something profound in the realization that she is only really freed from her almost maniacal desire when she is with child. Meaney's character says he has known her since she was twelve and she has always been and always will be a whore. She will die a whore, he says. If true--and again, the movie lets us decide for ourselves--the question is, how did she become that way? The implication is that she was led or forced into prostitution at twelve. That is why she cannot feel about sex the way others feel, and that is why she finds it so difficult to feel affection for others. Hers has been an animal existence. She is always on her guard, and she shies away from a world that seems always about to hurt her brutally.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"
on December 9, 2003
To my surprise, upon viewing this movie, I discovered that it is a love story...albeit dark, depressing love story with little if any light at the end of the tunnel. Claire Dolan (the late Katrin Cartlidge) is a high priced prostitute working to pay off her pimp. She tries to escape from New York to a town in New Jersey to live a legitimate life as a hairstylist. Believing she's being followed one night, she hits on Elton (Vincent D'Onofrio) in a bar in order to obtain protection. However, as she slow dances with him, she becomes less fixated on watching for enemies and surrenders to the romantic moment.
Eventually she's sucked back into life as a prostitute but Elton sticks with her. Their sexual relationship starts out rather stiff and impersonal but gradually becomes more passionate as she comes to trust him, and he becomes increasingly obsessed with her and with trying to understand her sordid life. Meanwhile Claire's evil pimp (the fine Irish actor Colm Meaney, the only upbeat character in this film) isn't happy about her love affair and does what he can to interfere by playing Claire and Elton against one another.
Most of the sex in this film is cold, but there are two tender, passionate love scenes between the Claire and Elton which caused me to root for them as a couple. On the other hand, be warned that there is a scene between them toward the end which is a bit hairy. This film is definitely not for kids under 17.
"Claire Dolan" isn't a great movie as it is overly artsy, complete with perpetually frowning actors and monosyllabic dialogue. I found it rather hard to believe that businessmen would pay hundreds of dollars to sleep with Claire, who is so grim, pale and waifish that she seems better suited to a gothic film than an erotic drama. I recommend the movie for fans of Vincent D'Onofrio, as this is one of his better indie film performances; he proves here that he can do understated roles as well as he does the big, showy stuff. Female fans may find him exceptionally attractive here...great hair, guy's-guy wardrobe, big puppy dog eyes. It's certainly an interesting movie, despite its drawbacks, and many of its scenes have stuck with me.
on June 19, 2006
CLAIRE DOLAN is an exquisitely rendered exploration of anomie in modern American culture. Claire Dolan is a prostitute in debt to a pitiless pimp/businessman, Roland Cain. The viewer is not informed about the genesis of their relationship, nor how Claire's debt was incurred. One may infer that it is long standing, perhaps since Claire was only 12 years old, and that it is linked to her mother, whose death early in the film prompts Claire to bolt from Manhattan and attempt to establish herself in a Roland-free life. She discovers, at last, one thing she can trust: Roland's ability to find her and poison her existence.
Enough cannot be said about Katrin Cartlidge's remarkable performance in this film. She projects unbearably contained misery. Just as commanding is Colm Meany as Roland, surprisingly convincing as her falsely amiable nemesis. Rubbing up against them is a sad-eyed Vincent D'Onofrio, who provides an astute low-key beautifully wrought contribution as Claire's taxi driving boyfriend, Elton.
The world these people inhabit is a world that is unyielding in its suffocating coldness. No one offers sympathy, hope, warmth or succor. Claire knows that she has only herself to rely upon, but makes persistent heartbreaking tiny attempts to connect with others on a more human level.
She makes a comment to a mother about her baby's beauty, and the mother gathers her other child and leaves the playground. "I buried my mother today," Claire tells a stranger at a newspaper kiosk. The woman she confides in looks askance and hurries away. During her ill-fated attempt to flee from Roland, she gets a cat. When Roland finds Claire, he kills the cat. Her boyfriend, Elton, makes a determined but doomed attempt to understand her work, and therefore Claire, better, but his efforts lead to torqued helplessness and frustration. These feelings are compounded after he is nearly killed by a thief in his cab, and suffers a vicious, effective psychological and physical assault from Roland. When Claire comes home that night, seeking relief from her brutal existence, Elton embraces her welcomingly, but ends up echoing her treatment at the hands of Roland.
The menacing music, the framing of the shots and relentless capturing of glass and steel box images in Manhattan contribute to the enervating feeling of the story. Claire's dead face as she services the needs of her clients, her living quarters, dull muted clothing, especially her awful giant overcoat, reflect the sterility of her existence and the dearth of warmth in her interactions with everyone in her life.
"I have learnt silence from the talkative," wrote Kahlil Gibran, "toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers." CLAIRE DOLAN is a compelling, powerful teacher. It reverberates within the soul and, please God, sparks compassion in those lucky enough to see it.
on January 17, 2007
We open on images of urban architecture. Skyscrapers, high-rise apartments, covered in opaque glass and shot at angles that serve less to show us what lies inside these buildings than to reflect the world without.
This world is an ominous place and few people are made more aware of it than the titular Claire Dolan.
A Manhattan prostitute who caters to sorry, white-collar johns, Claire has a moment of clarity when her elderly mother dies under mysterious, unresolved circumstances. For Claire, intimacy has always been a carefully-constructed illusion she creates for her clients. "You're not like other men," she's fond of saying. "You're beautiful," they're found of replying. Neither is entirely true (no disrespect to deceased actress Katrin Cartlidge, who some will remember from noteworthy performances in Breaking the Waves or Naked).
When relationships are measured in dollars and every human exchange comes with cost, it's no surprise when Claire only has a passerby on the street to confide "I just buried my mother." The stranger offers little comfort. Claire attempts to restart her life across the Hudson River but ultimately fails to outrun her past - they have a way of catching up to people and hers comes in the form of her pimp (Colm Meaney, overjoyed to be playing something other than an Irish gangster). Along the way, she meets and ultimately falls in love with sensitive taxi driver, Elton (Vincent D'Onofrio, in what future generations will term his "svelte period"), playing wink-wink with a film archetype made famous by Scorsese and De Niro. Claire later seeks emotional consolation via the bearing of a child - it's unclear if this is a repudiation of her former lifestyle or the ultimate indulgence in it. We're left to judge this for ourselves.
The film is sexual but not sexy. The only time we can reasonably certain of Claire's pleasure in the sex act is during a tryst with Elton after he agrees to help pay off her debts. Like Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Cache, Funny Games), writer/director Lodge Kerrigan is consistently indicting the audience of its crimes (remember those reflective surfaces of the opening). Just as Claire cannot experience true intimacy, neither can we. The camera is a voyeur, frequently recording Claire's passionless sex with johns from across the room, around corners, through the crack of a door left ajar, and if we still didn't get it, reflected on a blackened television screen. All the while, she has the bored/wounded look of an aging porn star, her eyes - those windows of the soul - serving less to show us what lies within than reflect the world without.
Interesting footnote: Lodge Kerrigan would later direct a film called In God's Hands that had to be abandoned after severe damage to the negative (it starred Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard). Steven Soderbergh was a producer on that film, as he would be on Kerrigan's incredible picture, Keane. That film is available on DVD with cuts by both director and producer, an interesting exercise in filmschoolishness.
on October 20, 2009
Vinny D'Onofrio fans: watch this film. You know he acts in this film in his own intense way, and how we love his style.....but even better for all of us who have a crush on him....he nails the love scenes, hands down (and in one scene pants down). Colm Meaney was also superb in this film, he's a great actor. It is a dark film and Claire is a sad woman, a prostitute. The ending has a twist, so watch the whole film. Don't watch this with children in the room or nearby. (Not appropriate.)
on December 24, 2005
For some incomprehensible reason, this came out in France several years ago so I bought it from Amazon.fr. It was well worth the extra cost and I'm glad I didn't have to wait for it to come out here.
Yes. It is dark, bleak, and generally depressing, but the ending is great and the performance from Katrin Cartlidge shows what a tremendous loss to Cinema it was when she died. She was the embodiment of the characteristic "nuanced."
Also very surprising was Colin Meany as the Claire's antagonist. (I don't like the word "villain" both because I have a hard time spelling it and because this is a story based on things that could have, and probably do, happen.)
Strongly, strongly recommended. I haven't checked but I think I put a review (in English) on Amazon.fr.
The tag for this movie could easily be - people suck so don't bother trying to form a relationship with anyone. The director portrayed a dark and stark look at human relationships. This film is chock full of atmosphere but had too many loose threads for a perfect rating.
We watch as Claire Dolan says and does whatever a man wants in order to have sex with them. She needs the money to pay off a debt she owes to this older man. This "friend" of her parents has been forcing her to prostitute herself to pay off a debt incurred by her mother's care in a nursing home? Scenes between these two characters are tense and the screen vibrates with violent emotions.
Claire gets the heck out of Dodge and runs away once her mom dies, hoping to escape and reconnect with extended family. Claire yearns for real intimacy and finds a relationship with another desperate soul. Then odd things start to happen and we are not surprised by the reappearance of the older man. He has tracked her down. This time we see the heartless violence of this man as he orders her back to work.
I cringed whenever Claire tried to forge emotional bonds. It was heartbreaking to watch Claire talk about her mother's death to a stranger who merely smiled at her. The sexual encounters are so cold or cruel. Especially the scene where a man professes to be repelled by her and the situation, degrading her verbally, and then pays to have sex with her. Claire's new boyfriend does not last long and easily moves on with his life, getting married and starting a family. This film is so bleak and shows the utter isolation of mankind despite any attempts to the contrary. Claire Dolan is one messed up woman and her solution of having a child so she too could experience love is a disaster just waiting to repeat itself.
I appreciate the director's view but I had problems with the huge mess left at the end. Why was this old man intent on ruining Claire's life? There is a vague reference to "knowing" her since age 12 but nothing is ever defined about their relationship. The whole plot hinged on this odd relationship but it was never explained. There is also the whole "Claire" and "Lucy" identity issue. Claire used the name "Lucy" when working but the boyfriend discovered two separate identification cards with seemingly different women in the photos. Are they the same person or does she have a sister? We do see a woman walk down the street that has the boyfriend staring hard. Is it the woman from the Lucy I.D.? This is left up to the viewer to decide. I thought it meant that we all have to potential to be different people but that might be the optimist in me and there is little room for happy thoughts in this film.
This movie ultimately left me frustrated by all the questions thrown out there but maybe that was the point? Life rarely provides answers.....
quick review: single in New York, struggling to pay a debt, Claire is forced into escorting to pay off her debt. Along the way she falls for a cabbie driver. The film deals with her trying to decide what lifestyle she wants to continue... escorting or a normal life with a loving relationship. The ending I thought was surprising...the actress who plays Claire, Katrin Cartlidge, is in almost every scence, so it's basically a character study of her life. She gave a great performance.
on July 11, 2009
I did enjoy this movie Vincent D Onofrio was excellent as well as the actress, i knew it would not have a happy ending but i really wish they could stayed together!,worth a lot of rewatching
on March 23, 2011
The reviews on this film are very generous, in my opinion. If this is what passes for art these days, cinema in general is in trouble. In the U.S., it's practically dead anyway. Nothing but remakes and crap, but that's another story. It indeed was a solid storyline, I am not denying that. I loved the shots of the city and the authentic background noise added to every scene. But when it came to the acting and the scenarios presented, it just fell flat. The lead character's monotone delivery and bland persona took it's toll on me eventually, to the point where it was almost annoying. Her character was simply not developed to the point where one could feel anything toward her plight one way or another. It stumbled from one clunky sex scene to another, generating to interest whatsoever. Lodge Kerrigan is extremely talented. Keane and Clean, Shaven will attest to that. Whatever he was trying to convey here got lost somewhere in his head. Unfocused. Weak ending. The only performance of note was Colm Meaney's. I wish I bought the vhs rather than the dvd. Anyway, it's for sale now. Want it?