Friday, 11 August 2017

Catfight - Dir. Onur Tukel

Possibly more readily known as ‘That film where Sandra Oh and Anne Heche beat each other up’, Onur Tukel’s Catfight has plenty to offer beyond that initial premise, offering up a near farcical satirical look at the lives of pent-up New Yorkers.

Whilst attending a birthday party that doubles as a celebration for her husband’s latest contract for the military, Veronica (Oh) bumps into former college friend Ashley (Heche), an artist serving drinks to pay her way. The exchange of pleasantries quickly passes by and their conversation re-opens some old wounds; moments later, some fresh wounds are opened too after an accidental collision leads to a bout of fisticuffs and some severe consequences.

Fisticuffs is perhaps the wrong word, it being more associated with Victorian sport rather than the barrage of punches, kicks and holds that the two women aim at each other in Catfight. The fights are realistic in that both Veronica and Ashley end up covered in all manner of cuts and bruises when exhaustion eventually calls time on their fight; the ludicrously loud sound effects that accompany each blow on the other hand would not sound out of place in the giant fight in a model village at the end of Hot Fuzz.

The fight, and a subsequent fall down the stairs, places Veronica into a coma: when she wakes up two years later, her life has been turned upside down and the world is a much different place. Ashley’s life has taken the reciprocal upswing; her agitated and confrontational paintings have found a home in a country with thousands of soldiers fighting in an intentional undefined ‘Middle East’ conflict – the film is set in a recognisable present but with no strict adherence to specific, real-life events.

As Tukel deliberately loops the contrasting fortunes of Veronica and Ashley, and the vast array of supporting characters too experience their own upheavals and upturns, themes of tolerance, karma and not being a jerk to someone who’s in the dumps, come to the fore. Thankfully, none of the characters actually reach an epiphany of this kind for themselves – that would be far too feeble. Instead Tukel’s character remain resentful and unforgiving, even those that try to help out others can’t let go of the past.

In one scene, a deaf, motel receptionist (Howie, played by Jordan Carlos) takes offence when Veronica snaps at him for failing to hear her. He asks:

"And where are you visiting from?"
"What's that?"
"Did you say nowhere?"

he replies with mocking incredulity, rather than the sincerity of someone genuinely struggling to hear. Before he has chance to say anything else, Veronica replies:

"Yeah. I just said nowhere. What are you, deaf?"

immediately offering Howie the chance to gloss over his indiscretion and turn the guilt over onto Veronica. It’s a bizarre and funny exchange that could’ve been easily avoided if both weren’t so willing to snipe and mock each other for every minor offence.

The film can feel a little sketchy at times but it’s persistently funny, whilst retaining a very dark core – you wouldn’t wish any of the tragedies that befall Veronica and Ashley upon your worst enemy. It’s perhaps this mix of tragedy and comedy that has led to the somewhat dumbfounded reaction from critics.

On first glance it may appear that Tukel intends to let his story remain stuck in the cycle of animosity and anger of his characters, but he deftly draws back from their squabbles for a clear ending that even suggests that the woman who talks to trees may be most contented person of them all.

CATFIGHT is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD now.

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