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Entry updated 1 December 2020. Tagged: Film.

Film (2016). MPI Media, Dark Sky Films, Netflix. Directed by Onur Tukel. Written by Onur Tukel. Cast includes Anne Heche, Amy Hill, Ivana Milicevic, Sandra Oh, Alicia Silverstone and Myra Lucretia Taylor. 96 minutes. Colour.

College-day frenemies Veronica (Oh) and Ashley (Heche) are reunited at a party where Veronica's husband is celebrating a hugely profitable military clean-up contract for a forthcoming war in the Middle East. Ashley, a struggling artist, is serving drinks to help her caterer girlfriend Lisa (Silverstone). The two women end up fighting in the stairwell, leaving Veronica in a coma. The Sleeper Awakes two years later to find that her husband has committed suicide, her money has all been spent on her medical care, and her son has died in the war. Destitute, she is forced on the mercy of her former maid Donna (Taylor). Ashley meanwhile, has become an immensely successful artist, as her visceral, angry paintings come to symbolize the zeitgeist. Veronica, now a hotel chambermaid, recovers from her Amnesia when she sees one of Ashley's paintings depicting her own bloodied face. She confronts the pregnant Ashley at an art gallery; the two fight in a car park, leaving Ashley in a coma. In a Fabulation of distracting symmetry, Ashley wakes up two years later, to discover that she has lost her unborn child, and that her girlfriend has married a man and had a baby. She is forced upon the mercies of her former assistant Rachel (Milicevic), now a successful artist of feel-good Comics. Ashley tracks Veronica down to her forest hiding place, where the two end up fighting again.

Catfight's Near Future (or possibly Alternate World) setting makes it possible for it to comment on several twenty-first-century US hot-button issues, including healthcare and the military-industrial complex, although only its age-sixteen military draft and its lesbian surrogacy subplot seemingly prevent it from being a period piece set, say, during the Vietnam War, that might have arguably been narratively stronger than this Slipstream presentation. Such a setting, for example, would make it easier to believe that Veronica could start a fight in front of witnesses, grievously injure a woman in a New York side-street and somehow evade every CCTV camera, digital footprint and facial recognition machine for years, simply by heading to the forest home of her off-the-grid Aunt Charlie (Hill). As with the anti-heroes of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club (1996) and the ensuing film Fight Club (1999), to which Catfight might be regarded as a feminist response, the aggression of the belligerent leads derives from the crushing weight of the System, which turns each into an unhappy collaborator when times are good, and a resentful rebel when times are not. The ending, which sees an attempt at reconciliation swiftly devolve into further violence, strongly suggests that neither has noticed that the superficial antagonism of their relationship, which even extends to the glib title of the movie, is rooted in powerful social and systemic pressures, which continue to push them ever onwards. [JonC]


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