Hindi: chhoti haziri, vulg. hazri, 'little breakfast'; refreshment taken in the early morning, before or after the morning exercise. (Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, 1994 )
7 July 2018
Film review: The Tale
A dark tale of awakening An immersive, often harrowing drama based on writer-director Jennifer Fox's own experience of sexual abuse, The Tale (recently released on Hotstar) deserves the attention it has received abroad. Part of that attention is due to the #MeToo movement, of course, and one wonders if the film's narrative -- which investigates the 13-year-old's experience via the 48-year-old's confusing thicket of memories -- is also a product of #MeToo.
Earlier, there was little space for discussions of consent and power differentials within sexual encounters. It was more empowering to tell yourself that it was a choice you had made.
On the face of it, Jenny's childhood experience -- her adored riding teacher, 'Mrs G', groomed her into having sex with 40-year-old Bill, who was Mrs G's lover and Jenny's running coach -- might read as a textbook case of abuse. What makes The Tale so powerful, though, is that it shows us how conflicted Jenny felt about the incident.
Simultaneously ignored and policed by her parents, she finds the attention of adults she admires impossible to resist. Once persuaded that she is special, she doesn't see that she's being exploited. Even after she extricates herself from the 'relationship', Jenny remains convinced that Bill had loved her, and was devastated.
Everything she tells herself over the next three decades is based on that narrative of strength. But that interpretation is also a form of denial: "You want me to be some pathetic victim? I'm not." Sometimes we need the past to break down the defences we've carried into the present.
The film begins with the adult Jenny (Laura Dern) getting agitated calls from her mother (Ellen Burstyn) after she finds a story Jenny wrote about these events at the time: the 'tale' of the title.
That first teenage 'fiction' works beautifully as a cinematic device, but it is also a way in which to lead us into what is clearly Fox's preoccupation here: How do the stories we tell ourselves about the past shape who we are? In a chilling use of the visual medium to portray the trickiness of memory, Jenny's first meeting with Mrs G is portrayed by a teenaged actress (Jessica Sarah Flaum). Then Burstyn points her to an actual photograph, and the sequence runs again, now with the much younger Isabelle Nelisse: a chubby shy child whose vulnerability to praise is all too apparent.