The Most Assassinated Woman In The World movie review: Unsalvageable, even by a splendid Anna Mouglalis

Anupam Kant Verma

September 22, 2018 12:37:30 IST

2.5/5

For a film that seeks inspiration from and pays tribute to a theatrical form that sought to cannonade through the artifice of social and aesthetic taboos, The Most Assassinated Woman In The World rarely manages to rise beyond the rich tapestries and decadent silks of the world it conjures for us. Franck Ribiere’s film whets your appetite the moment you read its opulent, long title. And while it looks like a medium budgeted production from the first scene onward, the presence of the radiant, unimpeachably alluring Anna Mouglalis and the lush production design prepare us for an immersive, visually arresting experience. Unfortunately, a weak directorial hand, simply befuddling background score, only occasionally engaging dialogue and wildly ostentatious camerawork wean your attention away on a frustratingly regular basis. A potentially Lynchian plunge into another period is wasted away on hackneyed ideas treated crudely.

Mouglalis plays the role of Paula Maxa, the unrivalled queen of the Parisian Grand Guignol Theatre in the early 20th century. Think of her as the scream queen of her time. Every evening, Maxa is murdered on the stage in a unique manner. The bucket-loads of blood and gore elicit extreme reactions from the Parisians. While some line up in the hundreds to enter the theatre, others protest against the perceived indecency that proliferates inside it.

Poster for The Most Assassinated Woman in the World. Netflix

Poster for The Most Assassinated Woman in the World. Netflix

Enter Niels Schneider’s Jean, a journalist who seeks to write the definitive account of this seemingly profane form of theatre. He befriends Maxa and soon grows closer to her. Maxa, meanwhile, keeps receiving salaciously worded death threats from a secret ‘admirer’. A journalist under pressure to serve the scandal of the century on his readers’ breakfast tables, an actress in her prime, a theatre fighting for its right to exist, the stage is set for an intriguing cinematic experience.

But the farther you go beyond the decadence and the lush production design, the quicker the rot starts to set into the narrative. The ideas mentioned above receive passing mentions. Actors move in and out of the frame, often without purpose. Mind you, most of the performances are first rate, especially Mouglalis’. But the treatment goes so awfully awry that even the cleverly written spells of dialogue can’t rise beyond the drudgery of the film’s pacing. The camera wishes to be the star of this film, soaring and dollying, careening and spiraling, bereft of any thoughtful underpinnings. It’s a bit of a show-off, really. This can be said for the film in its entirety: a lot of smoke and fire, signifying nothing. As a result, it loses almost all its emotional impact, hanging in front of us like a dull imitation of the theatre form it explores.

With the wealth of ideas mentioned above at his disposal, the director makes the ridiculous decision of focusing the narrative on the serial killer strand of the story. Brought up as it is only in passing for a majority of the film, it makes it a severely trying experience. The romantic sub-plot does little to advance a story that becomes increasingly confounding before finally getting lost down the rabbit hole.

Mouglalis commands your attention every frame she is in. It is an inspired casting choice. She lends the film its most memorable moments. Her stage performances are a thing of beauty, the kind that is birthed in the innards of sheer terror. Frankly, she gives the role her all. You can watch the entire film simply because she will be showing up again and again, sometimes screaming and wailing, often simply observing.

But the tonal aberrations are far too jarring and frequent to allow you to lave in the film’s visual splendour. The musical choices leave you scratching your head. Not only do they lack inspiration and common cinematic sense, but also draw your attention away from the immersion the film seeks to create. Even a barely musical mind will be able to discern the problems with the score. Its rich atmospherics severely injured by the music and the inappropriate camerawork, the promising lot of ideas hardly explored, salvaging TMAWITW becomes an impossible task, Mouglalis or no Mouglalis.

The Most Assassinated Woman In The World is now streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:

Updated Date: Sep 22, 2018 12:37 PM