Cinematic Releases: Based On A True Story (2017) - Reviewed

Based On A True Story

With a shot from successful novelist, Delphine Dayrieux's (Emmanuelle Seigner) POV, in the middle of a hectic book fair signing session, Polanski positions the viewer in her headspace as he points the way he’s heading, in what is essentially a greatest hits compendium.

Exhausted, Delphine decides to cut the session short, just as Elle (Eva Green) suddenly shows up, declaring herself her biggest fan, as she states blankly "You write just for me, it's like you read my mind".

Thus begins Polanski's adaptation of Delphine De Vigan's metatextual novel, which, in a case of art imitating life and vice versa, seems to have been written with the master filmmaker’s camera in mind.

The friendship between both women develops at breakneck speed (in contrast with the book's slow burn), quickly reaching the necessary level of intimacy for Elle to invite herself into staying “temporarily” with Delphine. The new closeness between them reveals a not quite pleasant side to Elle's mysterious personality.

At this point Polanski pulls all the brakes, transforming the film into an auto referential celebration, which, precisely, echoes the theme touched on by, both the actual and the fictitious, Delphine, in her own writing.

Just like De Vigan's novel, mysteriously written (four handed) through the help of someone who is literally and figuratively a ghost writer; Polanski is joined in screenwriting duties by the brilliant Olivier Assayas, who has proved once and again his prowess handling scabrous relationships and female psychology (from Irma Vep to Personal Shopper), in order to palpably reproduce the sensation of a specter writing someone else’s life.

In this case, Polanski delves into his personal experience, which he has metaphorically depicted on film repeatedly throughout his career, and recreates it (once again) through a feminine filter, with the added bonus of this being the first time the original text is actually written by a woman (who, in infinite Möbius band style, undoubtedly seems to have been influenced by Polanski’s oeuvre).

This metatextually-cubed game of references becomes an interminable Russian matryoshka, where each image and turn of the screw veers to the past. The visual and narrative quotes are specifically focused on Polanski’s masterpiece, The Tenant (1976), and on his biggest commercial success, Rosemary’s Baby (1968); both based on original novels.

Pawel Edelman’s photography excels at translating the dreadful feeling of nightmares to the screen, as he, amazingly, reimagines the oneiric imagery created by Polanski for both of the above-mentioned films.

Inside this labyrinth of creativity, and submerged in the power struggle between both sides (Delphine and Elle), what really is at play is the control over artistic creation and the limits of where, the loss of said control, can push a creator, who ventures into the abyss, in order to extract those valuable diamonds of experience.

Ultimately, the real fear of the blank page seems to lie in confronting the horror of our own reflection in its white mirror. 

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-Manuel Rios Sarabia