Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for brutality and language
Run Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. In French with English subtitles
Rarely does a film offer such an unflinching look at human sexuality and the tenacity of the female spirit embodied in a gripping storyline, but the controversial French thriller “Chaos” manages all three. As French yuppies Hélène and Paul (Catherine Frot and Vincent Lindon) race through their days with nary a glance at one another, the stage is set for moral catastrophe. En route to a dinner engagement, the couple witnesses the brutal attack of a beautiful prostitute named Malika (Rachida Brakni) at the hands of her pimps. Paul refuses to get involved, ignoring the desperate pleas of the badly beaten girl and speeding away into the night.
Overwhelmed by guilt, Hélène seeks out the mystery girl and forgoes her family and professional obligations to stand vigil at her bedside. Hélène painstakingly nurses Malika through her traumatic ordeal, as realization dawns that her own life has turned shallow and meaningless.
Parallel narratives ensue. Paul struggles helplessly with running a household and caring for the couple’s insolent adult son as Malika unravels her shocking history to Hélène. Malika’s is a bittersweet tale of arranged marriages, family dysfunction and harsh betrayal that transformed her from an academically promising schoolgirl to a virtual sex slave of a vicious criminal organization.
Revenge can be sweet, especially at the hands of a bright young woman with a plan. Hélène and Malika’s audacious scheme forges a bond of undeniable strength and appealing plot concentration. At once a brilliant strike for feminism and a condemnation of a backwards culture, “Chaos” is darkly amusing and disturbing cinema.
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