Rage, Sally Potter, 95 mins (15)

Up close and really rather fabulous: Sally Potter pares everything back to basics with a talking-head snapshot of the fashion world that fails to offer new insights but still captivates

A film is a film is a film, you'd think. But it's strange how context can make a difference. When Sally Potter's Rage screened in competition in Berlin in February, it generally got the critical thumbs-down. Perhaps it wasn't what people expected: with its prestige cast (Steve Buscemi, Judi Dench, Eddie Izzard, et al), we seemed to be in for a racy ensemble drama about the fashion industry.

But there was no ensemble to it – every performer acted alone – and no ritzy frocks, apart from those worn by Jude Law. We got a succession of monologues to camera, each actor framed in close-up against flat backgrounds in colours ranging from sober steel grey to screaming yellow. The effect, on the Berlinale Palast's huge screen, was overpowering to say the least.



This week Rage reappears in a different, rather peculiar context: in a set of simultaneous premieres across the UK, plus a release on mobile phones. Having seen it on the big screen and on my laptop, I'd be curious to see how Eddie Izzard looks smirking at you from an iPhone. This is an intriguing release for a director who has never taken the conventional route. A fixture of British film's experimental wing (such as it is) since the late 1970s, Potter has always been adventurous, and only sometimes as cerebral as her reputation suggests. Her Orlando (1992) proposed a cool but sumptuous imagining of Virginia Woolf, while her last film, Yes, was a political romance about the global condition – in iambic pentameter.



In Rage, Potter pares everything down to DIY basics. Backstage at a New York fashion show, assorted characters are filmed by a teenager named Michelangelo, who's quizzing them for his web project. All his interviewees choose, however improbably, to confide in him – from overlord financier "Tiny" Diamonds (Izzard), through PRs and scheming interns, down to the underpaid seamstress (Adriana Barraza) and hapless pizza delivery man Vijay (Riz Ahmed).



At some point in the narrative – itself as skeletal as a superwaif – two models come a cropper and a police investigation begins. Meanwhile, a protesting crowd rumbles offscreen – a portent of apocalypse both for Diamonds' fashion house and for Western consumerism.



As a serious critique of the fashion world, Potter's script offers little insight or subtlety. The characters expound views that come across as either transparently, deludedly self-serving or as sweepingly sloganistic: Dench's grandly sour critic declares, "Fashion's not an art form – if it's anything at all, it's pornography." Taken together, Potter's discursive mosaic provokes no novel conclusions: so the fashion world, despite producing occasional marvels, is exploitative, hollow, damaging to women and full of creeps. Who knew? We learn much less here than in The Devil Wears Prada, or even Zoolander, and as for the conflation of fashion and apocalypse, there's a decided after-whiff of Bret Easton Ellis's Glamorama.



But cinema isn't necessarily any more about text than fashion is. Where Rage impresses is as portraiture: not so much of its broadly cartooned social types, though some are vividly entertaining, as of the actors themselves, their faces and mannerisms. Simon Abkarian overdoes it joyously in piratical hat and piratical whiskers à la John Galliano, emoting operatically as designer Merlin ("I am an event!"). Bob Balaban is superbly passive-aggressive as a weasly PR man, and Judi Dench, set against intense fuchsia, is magnificently spiky, spitting contemptuous aperçus and lighting a spliff from a handy little pistol.



The novelty turn is Jude Law cross-dressing as supermodel Minx, sporting a series of preposterous wigs and an intermittent Russian accent (is Minx from Minsk?). All flirty grandeur ("Are you shy because I am celebrity, yes?"), it's Law's most theatrical screen performance yet, but it's perfect here, both a larky send-up of his own beauty and a comment on the catwalk model as imaginary woman.



But the people most redolent of the flesh-and-blood humanity that fashion operates to obscure are Steve Buscemi and British model Lily Cole. Buscemi, as a burned-out war photographer reassigned to the combat zone of the catwalks, is virtually a memento mori with his scrawny chicken neck, freaked eyes popping from those insect features: he's never been photographed so unnervingly. At the other end of the spectrum is Cole, as ingénue Lettuce Leaf: despite a variety of wigs, there's no disguising the irreducible strangeness of that Martian-mermaid face ballooning across the screen in extreme close-up. And Cole proves she can act, to poignant effect.



You wouldn't think that a film that essentially parades faces in close-up for 95 minutes could hold the attention, but I found Rage consistently more compelling than Abbas Kiarostami's recent, somewhat reverent Shirin. There's also the work that Potter and director of photography Steven Fierberg do with colour, with eyes digitally retouched to match the backgrounds: most bizarrely when Vijay, painted blue from head to foot, is shot against a pink that rhymes with his bloodshot eyes.



While this may not be entirely what Potter intended, Rage makes most sense if you approach it not as a film but as a piece of intensely stylised video art. I don't mean to suggest that Rage is hollow but handsome – and yet if it were, what neater ironic comment on the glamour that it satirises? As drama and critique, Potter's creation is not nearly mordant enough. But as a purely plastic creation, an unusually sensuous essay in cinema povera, Rage is oddly compelling, a genuine one-off.

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings