by Grace Han
- Ursula Macfarlane packs raw emotion into her chillingly factual report on Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein's abuse of power
The sensational British documentary Untouchable [+see also:
film profile] by Ursula Macfarlane has turned heads with its Asian premiere at the Seoul International Women's Film Festival (SIWFF). As an entry in the SIWFF section “Polemics: Sexual Politics of 'Room'” – a special category that discusses the role of women in film production – the documentary could not have been more fitting. This Lightbox-BBC co-production packs raw emotion into its chillingly factual report on Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein's abuse of power. The assemblage of tape recordings, old photographs and interviews with individuals lay bare the sordid details of the 2017 scandal, neatly framed within Weinstein's 30-year track record of serial sexual assault.
The documentary begins long before Weinstein's involvement in film. Early victim Hope D'Amore recounts her acquaintance with Weinstein in his concert-promotion days in Buffalo, New York. In a long, restrained take, she visibly struggles to share her trauma after decades of suppressed shame. The trend only escalates from there. Ex-assistant Zelda Perkins relates the horrifying discovery of a fresh victim sobbing at her hotel-room door. Actresses Paz de la Huerta and Rosanna Arquette admit their own invitations to Weinstein's chambers. Hollywood hopeful Erika Rosenbaum recounts a violent close call. Eerily enough, each woman enunciates the same, reinforced fear: depending on how they react, Weinstein will either make or break their budding dreams.
Amidst what seems to be a never-ending string of horror stories, Macfarlane does not crucify Weinstein alone. Rather, she zeroes in on what made him and his acts possible – the social normalisation of sexual assault. Whispered rumours accuse the assaulted as aggressors, rather than as victims. Pop-culture jokes normalise Weinstein's rapist reputation on camera. And, as if to excuse Weinstein, long-time employees remind the viewer of Miramax's overwhelming success as the independent tastemaker of the century. Sandwiching the interviews within multicity drone pans, Macfarlane suggests that Weinstein's reach is as global as it is longstanding.
Riding the coattails of the 2017 #MeToo movement (which, ironically, was originally sparked by the Weinstein allegations), Macfarlane's cautionary tale warns future female filmmakers of the industry's dark underbelly. Women should be honest but wary; to change the entire culture of an industry is more of a miracle than the norm. But, Macfarlane supposes, one can always hope – as Weinstein's victims have done for the last couple of decades.
Untouchable first premiered at Sundance. Aside from its festival run, it is now available to stream on Hulu in the USA and will air on BBC in the UK. Embankment Films manages its international distribution.
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