- Jeremy Irons as Stephen Fleming
- Juliette Binoche as Anna Barton
- Miranda Richardson as Ingrid Fleming
- Rupert Graves as Martyn Fleming
- Leslie Caron as Elizabeth
Erotic obsession and the devastation of infidelity are dispassionately captured in Damage, directed with clinical hands by Louis Malle and performed admirably by the cast. It’s not a film for all tastes, but for those willing to view an intense and glacial unearthing of attraction, Damage may well interest you.
Stephen Fleming is a former doctor, who is now in the sphere of British politics as a government minister. His life is largely ordered and well off, with his loving wife Ingrid and two children; grown up Martyn and young Sally. While his life is pretty impressive and successful, you get the feeling that Stephen desires more out of what he says as a slightly dull and stuffy existence. That very thing finds him when he meets Anna Barton, a new girlfriend of Martyn’s who is gorgeous yet glacial. Stephen is immediately captivated by the icy Anna, who silently allows and entices his attractions to manifest and culminate in an affair. For Stephen, he is experiencing sexual bliss and something out of the ordinary, while for Anna it is more clouded and enigmatic. She seems to enjoy this thrill of the chase when it’s on her terms, yet remains passive outside of the bedroom with her hand clearly on Stephen’s heart. knows that what he is doing is wrong, but the beautiful Anna has awakened something within him that can’t be easily tamed. It completely consumes him from every angle and his ordered world is turned upside down. The affair intensifies, even though Martyn announces that him and Anna are to be married. It is Anna who mainly seems to control what is going on, telling Stephen that she is going to marry and still have relations with him. Yet after dinner with Anna’s mother who hints at her daughter’s damaging influence, considers breaking things off with her. Before this can happen though, revelations and sadness sweep over as the affair’s impact is brutally drawn out.
Louis Malle’s direction is one of measured pacing and subtle hints, that allows Damage to move along with a sharp eye on the affair and the ways it tests everyone. A lot of the tension in the film is found in the glances between Anna and Stephen, with each thinking they know the other’s thoughts and desperately wanting to get physical. There isn’t a moralizing factor in Damage and while and Anna are obviously hurting others b their clandestine actions, Malle refuses to pass judgement and presents them as two people who just can’t quit their desire, regardless of the consequences. The view of the characters will no doubt be what the audience wants it to be, but kudos to the script that explores the depths of obsession and how incendiary desire can become on even the most decent person. Which brings me on to the sex in Damage, which is animal and messy, up close and uncomfortably personal. It isn’t movie style sex though the people aren’t without appeal, it is depicted as a lustful thing that isn’t always pleasant or earthy. That may sound like a criticism, but it isn’t because Damage shows the burgeoning affair with an uncompromising air making it fierce but ultimately bruising. That’s why the sex in it is so different and unusual, it boasts an intimacy that never lets you look away through the cold and arresting treatment of things. Anyone going in expecting to be aroused will no doubt be disappointed, as Damage focuses more on the awkwardness and attempts to remain concealed best conveyed through body language. Sex and desire is played out as an exercise in both emotions and longings that are brought up yet slowly begin breaking through, with often compromising and ultimately tragic results in the long run. As smart and piercing as Damage is, it isn’t completely above the level of soap opera is some of its moments. Thankfully, these moments are only really a few in what is largely a successful and strangely gripping dive into the rivers of erotic longing, that wisely for the most parts rises above the need for melodrama. In fact, emotions are kept largely at simmering level until inevitable tragedy and heartache and that’s when Damage really soars, as the moments are so unexpected and emotionally violent. Some may say that the film is too cold, but that is to miss how objectively it views the characters and their actions. The music mirrors the bubbling tension and breaks in tranquility, before discovering a well of sadness that comes in handy when all is laid out on the table.
In this brewing drama of wrenching consequences, the assembled actors admirably perform with all they have got, with spectacular results. In the lead of the bewitched government minister, Jeremy Irons subtly portrays both an agonizing guilt and an almost school boy infatuation that refuses to remove itself from him. Irons is a pro at playing the stiff upper lip aspects of the part, while hitting home the deep obsession he feels whenever Anna is around him that causes him to jeopardize everything in his life he has worked hard for. Juliette Binoche has the right seductive allure and remoteness for the role of Anna, which she plays wonderfully. The part is a difficult one because Anna is someone who holds a lot back, but when you someone as talented as Binoche, the results are compelling. Through little flickers and nuances, she hints that there may be more feeling to Anna behind her icy surface, yet we can never be quite sure as she knows how to manipulate others too and her actions are not always what you expect. Her combination of aloof poise, come hither glances and possible danger are employed in a most striking way, with Binoche a sensual yet mysterious femme fatale. It isn’t difficult to see why Stephen risks everything for the melancholy yet arousing Anna, she really is a beautiful yet complex woman( due in no small part to the intelligence and suggestion of Juliette Binoche.) Yet the real fireworks and best performance in Damage is from the always interesting and dependable Miranda Richardson. Starring as the dutiful and caring wife who slowly comes to notice little things not adding up and earning a distrust of Anna, there is an elegance and grace to Richardson’s work that soon gives way to volcanic shock. And when I say shock and anger, she really goes for the jugular when everything spills out about the affair. It’s a soaring piece of acting and one that burns into the memory, owing to how deeply felt and bravely astonishing Miranda Richardson is. Rupert Graves has probably the least engaging part of the cuckolded Martyn, but he manages to really invest a sense of being bowled over by Anna and not being able to see what is right in front of him. Leslie Caron really makes her presence known in only a couple of scenes. Playing the wise and withering mother of Anna, she exemplifies an understanding of her daughter’s actions and knows exactly what she will do if she can. I had fun seeing Caron in the film as she largely says what everyone else is thinking, laced with a toxic undercurrent of foreknowledge.
A quietly intense and measured erotic drama that packs a punch as it goes on, Damage provides a striking view of overwhelming attraction and the brutal fall out from ones actions in the name of passion.