UK release date: 7 December 2007

cast list

Penelope Cruz
Kristin Scott Thomas
Rhys Ifans

directed by
Martha Fiennes
Martha Fiennes new film Chromophobia is an indecisive meditation on the British middle class. Ostentatiously set amongst London’s quieter landmarks, this melodrama uses humour, urban fears, competition and love (of course) to bring together a bunch of contemporary stereotypes.

One; a struggling marriage, two; a social care worker over-dedicated to his charge and three; a gay art scholar who reaches out to the local youth, these are personalities who would be overripe in any comedy sketch repertoire. Of course, here the lives of the wealthy and privileged are fraught with treachery and betrayal. The film presents a series of ambitious wealthy whiners whose double standards get them into trouble. Yet somehow they are spoilt with an ambiguous ending: They’ve made their beds, they have to lie in it. The catch: it’s got a Tempur mattress and luxury down duvet, it is just a bit fusty.

Fiennes has assembled a superlative cast including fraternal collaborator Ralph Fiennes, Damian Lewis, Kristen Scott Thomas, Rhys Ifans, Penelope Cruz and Ben Chaplin. There shouldn’t be a wasted moment in the film but unfortunately it’s nigh on impossible to sympathize with any of the characters.

Cruz gives us a performance that is covertly extracted from her back catalogue. It is framed as another fine performance of “strong woman”, or more specifically, defiant and suffering mother. Her sheer stubbornness and the denial of her liver cancer obstructs any empathy. Her social worker (Ifans) is a recovering depressive who obsessively invests too much emotion in her case. Does anyone feel an Enduring Love echo coming on?

Stephen (Ralph Fiennes) nabs a Rembrandt sketch from the archives to show it off at a local school. Disclosing its worth unsurprisingly piques the attention three teenage students, who visit his opulent oasis of a home in a sequence that, in a similar manner to Paul Haggis Crash, employs the audiences class and racial prejudices to elevate tension. Eventually they put him in a coma to steal his computer. The police find a recorded video of his god-son posing topless and suddenly the victim becomes the suspect.

Marcus Aylesbury (Lewis) is promoted to partner at his law firm and cornered into becoming a conspirator with corrupt seniors and an MP. Here is the major plot twist that brings everyone down: Marcus runs into his old school friend Trent, Chaplin’s sweaty hack, and reveals his troubles. Trent is a desperate journalist goes for the exclusive, betraying his friend. Guilt overcomes him on a deer-hunting trip. It is heavy handed metaphor for how wrong it is for a man to put himself first.

In the meantime Iona shops for England and queues up for a boob job. Thomas gives a wonderful performance as the privileged, insatiable and unpalatable wife whose efforts towards success fail with her husband, business and child-rearing.

The most aggravating aspect of the production is Fiennes’ soundtrack. It vexes from start to finish with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and the crass use of David Bowie’s Heroes in the reconciliation scene between Iona and her distanced son.

Class observations and the analysis of quotidian urban fears are too glibly handled to be truly remarkable. The film is awkwardly but tenderly portrayed and never nails its satirical or melodramatic truths.

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