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New film serves no one, except perhaps Homolka

The Toronto Star, ROSIE DIMANNO, Jan. 23, 2006

CanadianCRC editor's note:
This article appeared on page 2 of the front section of the Toronto Star at the top of the page.

There is a discomfort in contributing further to the dunghill that is Karla.

At least I know why I'm here, in a theatre, watching Karla, the movie to see if maybe, just maybe, they got it right, or at least more right than I did, than anyone else did, because the blunt enigma that is Karla Homolka defeated us.

It's everybody else in attendance that I wonder about.

It's reasonable, I suppose, for the public to be curious about this film, certainly that segment of a Canadian public that would come to this movie with a great deal of pre-existing knowledge about these dreadful events, gleaned from extensive media coverage of the crimes and the revolting couple that committed them.

And there's nothing unusual about cinema portraying the psychodrama of real-life events torn from headlines. In that sense, the filmmakers have nothing to apologize for or rationalize, any more than the principals behind an Oscar-winner such as Monster, about female serial killer Aileen Wuornos, or In Cold Blood, or Silence of the Lambs, or any other movie that has trafficked in murder vrit and the particular pathology of killers without conscience.

But those were skilful and nuanced films which, whether accurate or not in their depiction of why things happened, at minimum had sufficient nerve to tackle their subject matter head-on, perhaps because the source material already offered a richness of insight into the human condition, or the inhuman condition of some very abnormal people.

The story of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, for all the millions of words devoted to its telling and retelling, has precious little of that.

Nobody got to the pith of it. Nobody ever got to the cold, cruel heart of either Homolka or Bernardo.

Not the reporters who covered the trial for months on end, not the authors who wrote their quickie and long-haul books, not the psychiatrists who analyzed or the lawyers who queried, not the cops who investigated and the forensic experts who sifted, not the jurors and not the judges.

All we got were the details, the minutiae that never explained the whole: How one unremarkable couple, bland on blonde, could bring out in each other such depravity, such vileness, such purposeless degeneracy, that their wickedness can still fascinate, even as it repels.

Karla, the movie, certainly has no clue. It seems not even to care much about what motivated Bernardo to rape, first, then to stalk and abduct, and finally with Homolka complicit to debase unspeakably and kill.

There's too much story to contain in one movie only passing, muted reference to an investigation that was botched, to a DNA sample that sat for two years in the lab, to those infamous videotapes; no mention at all of turf wars between competing police departments, of a lawyer who retrieved the torture tapes and then held onto them, of the prosecution's insistence on battered spouse syndrome as an absolving construct for Homolka, their star witness.

Too much story, so Karla aims instead to be a character study. And this film is called Karla, not Paul, so the character under scrutiny is ostensibly hers, which is a further problem because Karla has no character. That's central to what's engrossing about Homolka her blankness, the moral vapidity about which psychiatrists commented, the flat dissonance that was so apparent in those dead eyes.

Laura Prepon, who plays Homolka, is simply too vibrant to even hint at that internal desolate wasteland and far too inherently sensual, all heaving bosoms, to capture Homolka's weird asexuality a woman who managed, in the real sex tapes, to be completely disassociated from her actions, to be utterly sexless while having every variation of sex imaginable.

I've read where both the actress and the director claim Karla is not sympathetic to Karla and some professional reviewers are in agreement, as if this somehow boosts the merits of the film. That's not how it appears to me. The Bernardo character may be merely a cipher, but Prepon-as-Karla is depicted as either a woman too stupid-in-love to deny her fianc/husband anything even the virginity of a little sister she drugged and served as a sex-morsel, causing the teenager's death or too cowed by repeated bashings (and the threat of exposure, if the Tammy video became public) to prevent the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy (their names changed in the film). Either way, those are both exculpatory justifications that Homolka offered in the witness stand, and which had earlier secured for her that infamous "deal with the devil," resulting in a 12-year sentence, all served, much to her indignation.

Perhaps out of sensitivity for the families of the victims, little is shown of the suffering endured by French and Mahaffy before they were strangled Homolka cowering beside the bedroom door (she does a lot of cowering in this movie), not at all a participant to the actual murders, just as she steadfastly maintained in court. I think the film doesn't have the balls to show these awful truths. But it has no trouble showing Bernardo pounding Homolka into a pulp. It even invents a scene I remember no such thing from court of a battered Homolka flung into the same fruit cellar where Mahaffy's remains had been earlier stored.

The movie scuttles away from a core premise that any woman could be this bad, do such abhorrent things, of her own volition, because she wanted to, and not because she was browbeaten into it.

As horror, this dramatization of Homolka and Bernardo doesn't hold a candle to what was seen and heard in court not just the videotapes of French and Mahaffy as sexual hostages (images visible only to the jury and court officials), but all those numbing sex tapes the couple made of each other, most particularly a revolting episode where Homolka pretends to be her dead baby sister.

As exposition, the movie is limp and without wisdom.

It has no point, no reason for being made, deadening as it does a story of jagged edges and monstrous protagonists.

But I can imagine Karla watching Karla and smiling approvingly.

Really, she is the only person capable of playing herself. It's a role she's been playing to a wide audience all these years.

he Movie

The true story about a Female Sexual Predator and Child Murderer

Karla Homolka movie - female sexual predator

Families step aside on Homolka film

'They are not the censor police' Distribution in Canada now likely

Toronto Star
Oct. 13, 2005

The families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy won't try to block the release of Karla, a film about the slayings of the teens, paving the way for the film's Canadian distribution.

"The families recognize that they are not the censor police," Tim Danson, a lawyer for the French and Mahaffy families, told the Toronto Star. "They understand that people have a constitutional right to make a movie or write a book."

The Hollywood film company behind the controversial movie, depicting the horrific murders by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, says it's close to signing a contract with a distributor that would get the picture into Canadian theatres.   Read More ..