Adapted from Phillip Roth’s novel Deception (his only work of fiction with a protagonist who shares his name), Tromperie, the French version from director Arnaud Desplechin, comes to Cannes. The film chronicles Phillip, an American writer living in London (who only speaks French) and his series of relationships with various women. Starring opposite him is this year’s titan of Cannes (despite her absence), Lea Seydoux, who is in four films screening at the festival. The actress plays a married Englishwoman, who is discontented in her marriage and finds refuge in the arms of the writer. They meet in his studio in damp London, make love and discuss the bigger issues of life.
The original novel was clearly a vanity project for Roth, and that stays true in this film. Phillip and Seydoux’s unnamed character have their rendezvous; he meets his Czech friend Olina, who is fighting cancer and is in an unhappy marriage; he meets a former student with whom he also had an affair – nameless too. As the viewer encounters each of the women it becomes clear that they are merely vehicles to draw out the ego of the central character, and his lack of awareness of his mistreatment of all of them is baffling. A dream sequence sees Phillip in court being tried for sexism and misogyny, and while one may think its an opportunity to atone for his mistreatment of women, he is totally remorseless, screaming sexual insults at the attorney and cementing his unapologetic arrogance.
This is a difficult watch for women. Phillip’s existential crises stem from issues such as his religion, Israel (very anti-Palestinian sentiments crawl throughout) and his writing. Both Seydoux’s character and his former student are both mentally unstable but, of course, their issues result only from their relationships with men. As Phillip rants about pressing global issues, Seydoux’s dialogue is reduced to lines such as, “I feel like I don’t have a cunt today” and moaning about her marriage, all while remaining totally passive. The former student reveals she underwent shock therapy and, when Phillip asks why, she explains, “I was attracted to womanisers”. The only woman with any sort of independence from men is Olina but, even then, she is still only there to tend to Phillip and his narcissism.
A pretentious adaptation that totally reduces all of its female characters to suffering, irrational women who look to a man to be saved. Seydoux’s performance is sparkling, as always, but even that can’t salvage a vapid script and the overbearing misogyny.
Deception (Tromperie) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Deception (Tromperie) here: