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Will he, won’t he?

M.A.C.
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CINEMA Steven Soderbergh says he wants to do fun films towards the end of his career and his latest, the quirky thriller ‘ Side Effects’ , is conclusive proof of his leanings

TOGETHER FOR A LEAN FILMFrom left, Jude Law, Rooney Mara and Steven Soderbergh
TOGETHER FOR A LEAN FILMFrom left, Jude Law, Rooney Mara and Steven Soderbergh

Watching Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects , one fervently hopes the director is only taking a sabbatical and not quitting films altogether. The psychological thriller is such fun that you just want to hug yourself with counterfeited glee.

Screened in the competition section of the 63rd Berlinale, Side Effects starts with the story of Emily, a suicidal young woman. Things don’t get better for Emily even after her husband, Martin, who was in prison for insider trading, returns home. In fact, they get worse and she attempts suicide. Dr. Banks, her psychiatrist consults with Dr. Victoria who Emily was seeing before she lost her medical insurance. Martin is found stabbed to death at his home, and all evidence points to Emily who has no memory of what has happened.

Banks finds his life unravelling — he is held responsible, as one of the drugs he prescribed for Emily is known to cause sleep walking. Bent on clearing his name, Banks uncovers a can of worms involving pharmaceuticals, mental illness, doctors and the law. The movie constantly keeps us off kilter. You think you know what is coming and then you are repeatedly thrown a big, fat googly. At the press conference, Soderbergh said, the greatest challenge for him was “finding the right tone for the first 35 to 40 minutes, the first act so to speak”. Jude Law, who played Dr. Banks said the toughest thing for him was “trying to convince myself that I could play a psychiatrist authentically!”

Rooney Mara, who plays the mysterious broken flower Emily, said, “Steven made the whole thing so easy, there were no challenges at all.” About thrillers, Soderbergh said: “The reason Hitchcock films are relevant and fun is not only because of the innovations, but also because they are all about guilt, which is good movie material. Each act of Side Effects is a different film. There are different points of view. First you think it is Emily’s story, then midway it becomes Banks’ story.”

When asked about why he chose to make a genre film, Soderbergh commented: “I liked the idea of making a thriller in the twilight of my career.”

Layered characters

The auteur (he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his debut film when he was 26, he can definitely be called an auteur) said he “always tried to approach a film that would destroy all that went before. I wanted to make the film very lean, only muscle. I restricted myself to working in a simple way”. Law said it was rare to get a “lean character” and referred to Banks as an “interesting character with layers to him that are revealed slowly. He is ambitious, which is probably why he moved from the U.K. to the U.S.”

In preparation for his role, Law, who insists he doesn’t even take headache pills, said he met doctors and patients and studied advertising for psychiatric drugs. “Our need for shortcuts has become a universal problem.” Burns said the theme of subversion starts right from the title, but one side effect cinema buffs definitely do not want is the permanent exit of the talented Soderbergh!

M.A.C.

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