Sunday, December 16, 2007

CHANTAL (2007) d. Tony Marsiglia

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

The “cautionary tale” has long been a staple of film and literature. Beyond its potentially altruistic purpose, the cautionary tale can be a wonderful vehicle for exploring seedy topics and delivering verboten imagery. When a cautionary tale is wrapped up in packaging that is glamorous, grotesque and produces a guffaw or two, you’ve got a story that will probably appeal to everyone who is strong of heart.

CHANTAL is the story of a pretty, young hayseed, played by Misty Mundae (aka Erin Brown), who flits into Hollywood on the winds of immense hopes and dreams. After landing in Tinseltown, Chantal quickly runs afoul of the loathsome denizens of the rotting underbelly of the Film Industry and the scaverngers who prey on the Lost Souls drawn to its illusory marsh light. Nearly every person she meets is willing to use and abuse Chantal in some way until the cruelties begin to wear away at her reason, leaving her even more exposed to the bloodsucking leeches that surround her.

CHANTAL is not an easy film to watch because of its delightfully seamy nature. At times, the story and performances are so over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek that the film seems to be a satire. At other times, the imagery is even more subtle, just before the edge of the cliff arrives and the viewer is unceremoniously dumped into a morass of Hollywood’s filth and squalor. Such a roller coaster of emotions and scenery might be unsettling and at times it is too much so, but it also patterns the emotions of the main character as she rides the waves of euphoria and misery. Throughout CHANTAL there is Misty Mundae, whose acting talents continue to impress. Not just a pretty face and a trim figure, Miss Mundae’s portrayal of the title character is able to elicit dual responses from the viewer. Miss Mundae’s Chantal is both appallingly innocent and naïve, affected and insufferable, but you can’t keep from rooting for her every time she is reduced to tears by the grimy refuse around her. Chantal’s descent into the abyss is uncomfortable and Misty Mundae gets the viewer to identify with her character somehow. As she did in Lucky McKee’s “Masters of Horror” episode SICK GIRL, Miss Mundae puts on an impressive show that leaves you scratching your head saying, “Why don’t we see more of this actress in mainstream films?” Maybe Miss Mundae is a lot wiser than her character Chantal and knows how to use the industry rather than be used by it.

The rest of the cast of CHANTAL is a collection of Pop Cinema’s regular stable of performers and their skills are utilized well in this film. They are able to deliver the niche performances that support the story and the main character effectively. The direction and cinematography is surprisingly good at times. There are scenes of otherworldly creepiness that give the underside of Hollywood an abhorrent sheen like a corpse-light. At other times, the shaking camera adds a less impressive air to the outcome. No doubt, director Tony Marsiglia was trying to add an emotional instability to the imagery reminiscent of IRREVERSIBLE, but since that film didn’t work, the effect does not always work here either.

CHANTAL is a two disc set with an amazing collection of extras. On Disc 1, in addition to the feature film, there are separate commentaries by the director Tony Marsiglia and Misty Mundae. There is a “making of CHANTAL” featurette and the CHANTAL camera test. On Disc 2 there is the original 1969 feature film CHANTAL directed by Nick Philips, who also does a commentary for the feature and has a separate short interview. There is a bonus featurette from 1956 – THESE GIRLS ARE FOOLS, a Nick Philips trailer vault and a Misty Mundae trailer vault. Such a juicy repertory of fascinating goodies makes this dvd set quite an adventure worth exploring.

CHANTAL is not for everyone. There is some graphic sexual content, foul language and even fouler story content, but the film works. There are times when you will laugh and times when you will cringe. At other times, you will be drawn in against your will to a story that is as old as the hills, but is still relevant today. CHANTAL updates the age-old myth of the “sweet young thing and her demise at the hands of corrupt users”. In the modern age, most “sweet young things” know full well what they are getting themselves into, but the stories of girls like CHANTAL are still out there and they still resonate.

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