Hélène's (Catherine Frot) loveless marriage to Paul (Vincent Lindon) comes to a head when, while returning home from an evening out on the town, a hysterical hooker (Rachida Brakni, in a mesmerizing debut performance) throws herself on the hood of their car while attempting to escape a trio of savage attackers. Instead of trying to save the woman, Paul instinctively locks the doors, thus allowing the men to finish dishing out their brutal beating. When the assailants are done, Paul - a paragon of twenty-first century male insensitivity - is more interested in cleaning his windshield of prostitute blood than tending to the savagely beaten girl lying next to his shiny new sedan.
Paul's callous inaction, however, is the last straw for Hélène, who promptly abandons her husband and son Fabrice (Aurélien Wiik) - chauvinists who believe that women are primarily useful for sex, cooking, and ironing (in that order) - and takes up residence in the hospital where the injured streetwalker, Noémie, now lies comatose. Hélène dedicates herself to nursing the girl back to health, but soon finds that the men who brought Noémie to the brink of death are intent on finishing the job. Desperate to protect her newfound charge, Hélène helps Noémie escape the clutches of her pursuers, and the two take temporary refuge at the seaside home of Paul's oft-neglected mother. Once she is fully recovered, Noémie recounts her miserable life story to Hélène, a tale that includes her father's attempt to sell her to a wealthy Algerian, her strung-out time on the streets trading sex for money, and her use of stock-market savvy and feminine wiles to con a dying millionaire out of all his money. Noémie and Hélène, although forced to endure different types of male-propagated suffering, are clearly kindred spirits.
As the two women plot their revenge against those who have done them wrong, Chaos' elaborate story begins to resemble Serreau's anxious digital video camerawork and frantic cross-cutting, which reaches an apex of high-flying nervous energy during the extended flashback sequence in which Noémie narrates her ludicrously convoluted past to Hélène. But the recurrently absurd shifts in tone, rather than sabotaging the narrative's cohesiveness, instead give the film a dissonant, madcap energy that does much to smooth over the screenplay's two-dimensional characterizations of women as victims (or sly feminist avengers) and men as egotistical dolts whose subjugation of women masks a desperate reliance on them. Serreau takes pleasure in launching into narrative flights of fancy - there's nary a plausible moment in Noémie's stock-trading escapades - and it is the film's greatest asset that the story doesn't tidily conform to the rigorously logical demands of reality.
Still, for all its inspired lunacy, Chaos can't stop harping on the narrow-minded idea that the only relationships between men and women are functional business transactions, where the pimp/whore dynamic is synonymous with that of husband/wife and boyfriend/girlfriend. As a result, the film's commentary on women's secondary position in modern society holds no resonance; it's as unbelievably cartoonish, and yet not nearly as pleasurable, as the film's humorous subplots (the best of which involves the two-timing Fabrice getting his just deserts at the hands of his fiancé and paramour). The unreasonably drawn out finale finds everyone getting what they deserve (for good or ill) and learning some pat lessons about life and love. But the fun isn't in Serreau's heavy-handed affirmations of estrogen power - it's in the story's restless, realism-be-damned chaos.
Chaos -- insane!!!
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 15th December 2005
Box Office Worldwide: $10.3 thousand
Distributed by: Rogue Pictures
Production compaines: Mobius International, Chaotic Productions, Current Entertainment, Rampage Entertainment, Pierce-Williams, Zero Gravity Management, Epsilon Motion Pictures, Möbius Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 20%
Fresh: 1 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Coline Serreau
Producer: Alain Sarde
Screenwriter: Coline Serreau
Starring: Jason Statham as Det. Quentin Conners, Ryan Phillippe as Det. Shane Dekker, Wesley Snipes as Lorenz / Jason York, Henry Czerny as Capt. Martin Jenkins, Justine Waddell as Det. Teddy Galloway, Nicholas Lea as Det. Vincent Durano, Jessica Steen as Karen Cross, Rob LaBelle as Bank Manager, John Cassini as Det. Bernie Callo, Damon Johnson as Brendan Dax, Paul Perri as Harry Hume, Keegan Connor Tracy as Marnie Rollins, Natassia Malthe as Gina Lopez, Ty Olsson as Damon Richards, Terry Chen as Chris Lei, Ken Medlock as Officer MacDunner, Pascale Hutton as Pretty Waitress, Michasha Armstrong as Xander Harrington, Mike Dopud as Lamar Galt, Garvin Cross as SWAT Commander, Fulvio Cecere as Det. Thomas Branch