Ask me at anytime before 2015 if I knew who award-winning director Onur Tukel was, and I probably couldn’t tell you; Mind you, I’m only a modest action film junkie – even though I follow the genre regularly – as much as it helps to have a general, distinct appreciation for film in order to be more engaging. For this, Tukel’s latest, Catfight, eventually made it under my radar in the months leading up to its Toronto International Film Festival premiere last year, and boasting a perfect, rompous serving of artful drama and physical comedy that states a truly dark and haunting prevelant message beyond the tit-for-tat.
Tukel writes the script for the film which sets itself in New York City as the U.S. government readies for war in the middle east following a Presidential election. There is a multitude of characters on stage here, but the core story focuses on actresses Sandra Oh and Anne Heche who respectively star as Veronica and Ashley – the former, living affluently in SoHo with her husband and son, and the latter, a Bushwick resident struggling to get her art studio off the ground. As Veronica’s husband, Stanley, stands to profit from a newly signed contract for debris cleaning in lieu of the president’s “war on terror”, the two leave for a party in his company’s celebration for which Ashley and her live-in partner, Lisa, are catering. Little do they know that the shindig would lead to a fortuitious and ultimately bitter reunion in which ideologies and beliefs clash, ensuing in an isolated drunken brawl and a raw grudge that would elapse the two sworn enemies in the span of four consequential years.
Catfight pulls no punches in its thorough, multi-layered reflection of the current political atmosphere, with Tukel’s brilliant writing as a pallete for the use of color to depict the film’s satirical, albeit stark and often flatulent message. In the course of their bouts, both Veronica and Ashley suffer from major comatose injuries in which not only are their perceptions of people, friends and things change to an extent, tragically, they also lose everything they have ever had, both material and metaphysical – pieces of themselves they will essentially never get back. Theirs is the result of a lingering bitterness typical among those of us who, in our nature, are blinded by their extremes and emotions, a fact no less true in each act as we explore the rags-to-riches inversion of our characters and the human nature of one’s search for catharsis in an unfair world.
Tukel’s approach to Catfight deserves every bit of round of applause it can get for its depiction of the static between people on both ends of America’s economic percentile; Moreover, the film is a resultant reminder of how quick life can slips by when you’re consumed by the immediate need to hurt people – from words to full-on fisticuffs. Oh and Heche, and with inarguable gratitude for stuntwomen Kimmy Suzuki, Kara Rosella and Nikki Brower, are fantastic in their execution here, exhibiting range that goes from screaming and shouting to full-throttle in their skirmishes, bludgeoning each other in a periodic trio of knock-down, drag-out, bloody and brutal fights; By the bye, it also makes one imagine how Tukel could handle a story such as this one in a setting where mediums like Twitter and Facebook were as contemporaneous as they are today. It’s a fascinating thought.
Moreover on the mnemonic signaling within the film’s aesthetic, Catfight is not so formulaic as to leave things off with complete resonance. If it did, the subliminal focus on reality that a film like Catfight was meant to clobber you with would have been lost, which is exactly where the gripping tone and poignance comes in. The sign-off here, putting actor Giullian Yao Gioiello at center stage as Veronica’s son, Kip, is a purely profound and deep one.
Simplistically, Catfight is all about the battles we face in life and the importance of taking a moment of self-awareness over self-efficacy and overt narcissism. With every pun intended, the movie is an unforgiving gut-puncher that serves as a stark, graphic, ugly and crushing allegory on the importance of empathy no matter what colors represent you, or how big one’s claws are.
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