Execrable: Devil in the Flesh

Devil in the Flesh (1998)

Directed by Steve Cohen
Written by Kurt Anderson, Richard Brandes, Michael Michaud, Kelly Carlin, Robert McCall, Steve Cohen
Produced by Kurt Anderson, Richard Brandes, Marc Forby, Alicia Reilly Larson, Betsy Mackey, Robert E. Baruc, John Fremes
Starring Rose McGowan, Alex McArthur, Peg Shirley, Phil Morris, Robert Silver, J.C. Brandy, Sherrie Rose, Ryan Bittle, Julia Nickson, Krissy Carlson, Schultz, Wendy Robie, Philip Boyd, Milton James


Logophilic police detectives (Morris, Silver) conduct an inquirendo into a possible arson that killed her mother and teacher while a sultry student (McGowan) chafes at residency with her abusive, overbearing, fundamentalist grandmother (Shirley), and attendance at a new high school where her crush on a handsome teacher (McArthur) turns erotomaniacal. Corpses accrue.


Their residual capitalization on the sleeper’s success of Poison Ivy and its sequels (themselves variations on Fatal Attraction‘s scenario) isn’t without wit, but Anderson and Brandes should’ve held their four screenwriters to one standard of black humor, and weeded this flick’s shooting script of some badly barbed lines.


Michael Thibault’s final cut would be unexceptionable but for excessive and successive dissolves, and some intolerably interpolated whoosh cuts, none of which evoke fond nostalgia for the ’90s.


Her bitchy chill was honed for years in compulsive trash like The Doom Generation and Lewis & Clark & George, and McGowan’s as fetchingly flirty here as in any of her other vehicles, if less interesting than certain co-stars. Morris and Silver play their cross-quizzing inspectors with pleasantly understated comic timing, and Faheyish McArthur emanates charisma as the object of her sensual seductress. Oddly, not too much of this this devil’s flesh is on display, despite McGowan’s penchant for onscreen nudity. Sherrie Rose is instead twice in the buff during sexy scenes with McArthur, and while her figure is easy on the eyes, the absence of McGowan’s gymnomania may have disappointed purchasers of this video.


From their first of many collaborations, Michael Burns’s and Steve Gurevitch’s music tugs the ear, unlike the tones-by-numbers that they’ve since been turning out for scores of Lifetime’s features.


Darling schnauzer Schultz charms as the pet of Shirley’s loathsome beldame. Whether this satisfies is largely incident to its audience’s sexual orientation; McGowan was so stunning in her prime that she’s sure to transfix anyone tending to the slightest interest in the fairer sex.


Painfully lame quips during and after several homicides (two of which are frankly justifiable) aren’t meliorated by McGowan’s cutesy delivery.


For McGowan’s longsuffering, remaining fans — who might’ve noticed that she’s only half this crazy in reality — this is essential viewing. Addicts of Johnson/Shadowland’s sordid crime dramas may deplore this as extreme, but it’s likely a touch too tame for aficionados of erotic thrillers.

Sublime: The Leopard

The Leopard (1963)
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Written by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa, Luchino Visconti
Produced by Goffredo Lombardo, Pietro Notarianni
Starring Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Romolo Valli, Paolo Stoppa, Lucilla Morlacchi, Rina Morelli, Serge Reggiani, Leslie French, Terence Hill, Pierre Clémenti, Giuliano Gemma, Evelyn Stewart, Ottavia Piccolo, Carlo Valenzano, Anna Maria Bottini, Lola Braccini, Howard Nelson Rubien

“To overlook forms a large part of the work of ruling.”

–Baltasar Gracian

Risorgimento looms ineludible in the twilight of a Sicilian principality, whose aging dynast (Lancaster) wisely resigns to an eventual abdication that impels his efforts to secure his posterity’s future by nurturing the democratic instruments of national unification and conciliating his moribund aristocracy with succeeding, ascendant arrivistes of the mercantile class. That former objective is accomplished via plebiscite, and the latter actuated by arranging the marriage of the prince’s unscrupulously ambitious nephew (Delon), renowned for his heroism as one of Garibaldi’s redshirts, and the ravishing daughter (Cardinale) of a wealthy, wily parvenu (Stoppa), whose bumbling bearing and tastelessness enshroud a rare guile. Readers of Tomasi’s grand historical novel shouldn’t expect from Visconti’s lavish yet conscientiously clipped and condensed motion picture a version faithful to its source: the royal family’s beloved, essentially emblematical dog Bendicò merely occupies its periphery; Delon’s and Cardinale’s amatory betrothed are recharacterized to satisfy a tidier plot, as is the regent’s shunned daughter (Morlacchi); the book’s devastating, final chapters depicting its monarch’s transcendental quietus and the fate of his daughters are exquisite in print yet unfit for film, and rightly omitted; existential contrasts of mortality and eternity, conclusion and continuity poetically expatiated in the text are merely alluded here. Within sumptuous interiors replete with masterly portraiture, frescoed ceilings and gilt appointments, ornate relievos and statuary, and alfresco against the natural majesty of rocky Sicilian landscapes, Visconti’s focus on the story’s erotic and political aspects effects and constitutes the core of its drama, as when the philandering potentate’s shrift father (Valli) reproaches his master for backstairs advoutry or verbalizes the Vatican’s solicitudes, a potential love triangle leaves Morlacchi’s virtuous princess spurned, and an organist (Reggiani) disenfranchised by the wrongful invalidation of his sole dissenting vote harangues the minor monarch who he reveres above all others. Played perfectly (albeit typically dubbed) by a choice cast attired in costumes fabricated by Piero Tosi with the same attention to the period’s details as that endued to Mario Garbuglia’s production design, each development unfolds at a pace as stately as its protagonist in slow pans and painterly static shots, its contemplations in stark silences as stirring as Nino Rota’s soaring symphony, repurposed as a score as fit as any other of the production’s elements, and breathing the 19th century’s impassioned Romanticism. Lancaster’s liege is a representative of royalty in extremis and homage to the author’s great-grandfather, who fully fathoms the mold of his people, value of quiet compromise and necessity of sacrifice for survival. Lacking the entire substance, pathos and punch of the novel, this nonpareil of Italian formalism still stirs the spirit in its evocation of a nobility and order lost to accession.
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Godfather.

Execrable: Sister, Sister

Sister, Sister (1987)
Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Bill Condon, Ginny Cerrella, Joel Cohen
Produced by Walter Coblenz, Pegi Brotman, Yvonne Ramond, Ira Trattner, J. David Marks, Gabe Sumner
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judith Ivey, Eric Stoltz, Benjamin Mouton, Dennis Lipscomb, Anne Pitoniak, Natalia Nogulich, Richard Minchenberg
Its international box office tally of $1.2B elevated Disney’s semi-live action retread of Beauty and the Beast to unqualified success, and secured a permanence of position for perennial schmaltzmonger Bill Condon, who’s never failed to concoct or adapt nauseous hokum. His debut antedates that latest success by thirty years, but isn’t a touch less treacly, for this Southern Gothic murder mystery’s attractive production design and three fine principals were wantoned away on its creator’s institutional maudlinism. Lodging in Louisiana at the familial manse devised to its proprietress (Ivey), a congressional aide (Stoltz) finds himself mutually smitten with her touched sister (Leigh) and drawn into their sordid secrets by a goony handyman and valet (Mouton) in their employ. Condon sets his shots competently, but flagrantly mishandles players who’re all congruously cast: Stoltz’s stiff, often effeminate delivery undercuts what should be simmering vehemence; from one scene to the next, Leigh interchanges between charming vulnerability and the quavering blunders of first takes; native Louisianan and hammily proto-McConaughesque Mouton is abominable as the meddling bayou bricoleur, mumbling an unaccountably godawful deep southern accent and butchering French while overplaying his every sweaty shot. Ivey weathers well her director’s ineptitude to create the pic’s sole consistent performance, bracing no few scenes with the passion of her elder sister’s solicitude. Forty minutes of solid plot are tediously temporized nigh to ninety not with compelling interaction but corny cutbacks, adolescent outbursts, and a categorically unconvincing red herring leading to a preposterously phantasmic climax. However, it’s easy on the eyes: DP Stephen Katz lensed southern swamps and two plush plantations with a misty splendor almost as beauteous as its younger leads in erotic congress, Leigh especially breathtaking in the flower of her neoteny, notwithstanding a neglect of her exceptional endowment. Neither does it pain the ear, though Richard Einhorn’s lovely score is overextended to blunt the effect of numerous shocks and throttle what might’ve been atmospheric moments. As always, Condon’s confounded as much by his slavish conventionalism as his drab dialogue and simplistic characterization. Natheless, he deserves some credit for depicting less the backwoods baseness than the modest politesse of the reconstructed south, and although a yenta (Pitoniak), her equally hymish daughter (Nogulich) and nebbish son-in-law (Minchenberg) quartered at the mansion are at least as stereotypical as anyone else here, they’re no more harshly than crudely charactered. If he treated of story so sensitively as he does people, Condon might craft a picture that isn’t merely an emptily commercial success.

Sublime: Immoral Tales

Immoral Tales (1973)
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Written by Walerian Borowczyk, André Pieyre de Mandiargues
Produced by Anatole Dauman
Starring Fabrice Luchini, Lise Danvers; Charlotte Alexandra; Sirpa Lane; Paloma Picasso, Pascale Christophe; Florence Bellamy, Jacopo Berinizi, Lorenzo Berinizi, Philippe Desboeuf
In converse chronology, an abundance of beauties inhabit the miasm of this sexy, sinful quintet: a domineering young boor (Luchini) in the ’70s lures his pretty, teenage cousin (Danvers) to a beach where he forces her fellatio at high tide so that its climax concurs with his own; a busty, lusty, pious young woman (Alexandra) aroused by religiosity and libido over eighty years prior fetishizes in a sacristy ecclesiastic accoutrements before she’s confined by her aunt for an unspecified infraction in a storeroom, where her devotion and nympholepsy commove onanistic abandon before an escape results in calamity; leaving her harpsichord to pursue into a forest an extravagating lamb loose from its tether, a noblewoman (Lane) of 1765 encounters a shaggy, enormously endowed monster of notoriety before yielding with her horror to an interspecific concupiscence; a village in 1610 is visited by the forbidding Countess Bathory (Picasso) and her retinue, who expropriate its population of damsels to supply her sanguinary ablution; fecund Lucrezia Borgia (Bellamy) visits the Vatican in 1498 to bawdily cavort and relish a threesome with her father, Pope Alexander VI (J. Berinizi) and his son and cardinal, Caesar (L. Berinizi) while a Dominican friar (Desboeuf) fulminates from the pulpit against the church’s iniquity. Equally allusive and gratuitous in style and substance, Borowczyk’s interpretation of Mandiargues’ precursory short story and anecdotally historical degeneracy contrasts libertine rapture with violence and murder to emphasize the former’s hedonic virtue. As captivating as the carnality are its intervallic caesurae: a slow pan to a lingering shot of floating, perching seagulls against the backdrop of a promontory signifies a post-coital detumescence; in her boudoir, sylphs surrounding the countess’ bed pose provocatively in a tableau vivant foretokening forthcoming delirium and doom; shot with lubricious sedulity, every fine, fair figure strikes a discrete attitude of salacity. Rohmer’s, Breillat’s and Picasso’s fans are likely to be amused by the presence of their respective recurrent star, first leading lady and enterprising daughter in an especially pert and photogenic cast, attractively lensed by four(!) DPs to impersonate the vital beauty of passion and its consummation. After initial screenings, the bestial third segment was deleted from posterior reels and reused by Borowczyk as the nucleus of his next feature, The Beast.

Favorites: À nos amours

À nos amours (1983)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Arlette Langmann, Maurice Pialat
Produced by Daniel Toscan du Plantier, Emmanuel Schlumberger, Micheline Pialat
Starring Sandrine Bonnaire, Maurice Pialat, Dominique Besnehard, Evelyne Ker, Cyr Boitard, Tsilka Theodorou, Christophe Odent, Pierre-Loup Rajot, Cyril Collard, Pierre Novion, Jacques Fieschi, Valérie Schlumberger
As a paradigm of pulchritude and conduit for the exhaust of her disintegrating Polish-Parisian clan’s explosive acrimony, a subtle yet sluttish teen (Bonnaire) seeks in every man and boy she beds the imago of her charismatically choleric father (Pialat), a practiced furrier whose frustrations inhere and aspirations have been intrusted to his nympholeptic and emotively exhausted wife (Ker), and son (Besnehard) whose emergent auctorial talent is a source of both pride and concern. Still cherry-picking all the choicest haecceities of France’s cinematic perfectionists and the nouvelle vague who ostracized them, Pialat cultivated for this masterwork the esprit of brilliantly naturalistic, frequently improvised portrayals, and ambiences of stirring verisimilitude in lingering shots that bare the essence of personality while communicating and evoking the quiet excitement anticipating defloration, warm mutuality of parental and filial affection, the afterglow of amative coitus, suggestive silences at least as expressive as speech, bodily contours of sensuous immanence, yearning for inamorati absent, stinging spurns, their attendant heartbreak, and love shipwrecked on shores of caprice, all predicated upon Langmann’s autobiographical substratum, itself personalized repeatedly to befit the handsome novices dominating the cast. From her very first shot, Bonnaire’s as mesmerizing as she’s ever been since as much for her alluringly crude beauty as the instinctive and unpolished interpretation of her alternately estranged and enamored jilt, whose venturous individuality and lubricious whims leave in her wake a trail of misery — yet even at her most dallyingly detestable, an evident regret unveils a vulnerability as profound as those of her scorned swains. Her father’s imprudent yet inevitable abandonment of his nuclear household merely exacerbates and expedites its inhabitants’ dissolution: squabbles between mother and daughter erupt to magnify into altercations for which the latter’s beaten by her burdened brother in confused emulation of their extravagating patriarch. Worse, the most beautiful and ardent of her lovers (Boitard) finds himself scathingly shunned, the target of umbrage intended for the papa to whom his is the most striking semblance. His painterly background’s patefied in Pialat’s craftsmanship of lapidary precision enlivened but never misdirected by ad-lib inspiration; every scene’s painstakingly composed yet executed with such degage grace that their implications and exactitude may be overlooked during an initial viewing, always concluding satisfactorily (often sans resolution) to an unhurried pace that seems to elapse with sudden rapidity. Never was his extemporary genius so masterfully manifest as in a late postprandial scene, where his unbidden dad suddenly confronts and subjects his cognate family and new in-laws to condign, understated analysis and censure in a sequence as remarkable for its filmmaker’s unscripted sapience as for the spontaneous skill exhibited by the tyros in his charge, who respond in genuine astonishment without momentarily breaking character. Clearly, Pialat was as disinclined to append any tidy conclusion as to script rapprochement between his recriminative characters, if only to emphasize how the worst sinners among them are those most sympathetic, and that dysfunction and passion converge to people who can’t perforce be assessed at a glance…or a lifetime’s scrutiny.

Palatable: Police

Police (1985)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Catherine Breillat, Maurice Pialat, Sylvie Pialat, Jacques Fieschi
Produced by Emmanuel Schlumberger, Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Sophie Marceau, Richard Anconina, Jonathan Leïna, Sandrine Bonnaire, Franck Karoui, Pascale Rocard, Jacques Mathou
Depardieu registers far more of his characteristic charm than brutish menace as a gregarious, obtrusive inspector who falls as hard as concrete for the coolly opportunistic girlfriend (Marceau) of a Tunisian narcotics smuggler (Leïna) plying a dicey, lucrative trade with his four brothers. With DP Luciano Tovoli, Pialat beautifully presents a photogenic cast from whom he elicits prime performances, especially his superstar leads and fresh, fledgling Bonnaire as a friendly fille de joie whose kindly temperament is apposed in contrast to the shrewd stratagems of Marceau’s uncaring layabout, or a personable criminal lawyer (Anconina) who mixes with flics and felons alike to exploit both with unexpectedly treacherous consequences. Breillat later explored similar characters and scenarios in Dirty Like an Angel to reveal vulnerability beneath the tough superfices of interrogation and procedure that excite lovesick and callous idiosyncrasies proceeding from privation, but this collaboration with Pialat also postulates that neither French police nor the Arab criminals they pursued during the Fifth Republic’s zenith were either as detestable or reasonable as most might expect.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Dirty Like an Angel.

Palatable: Manon 70

Manon 70 (1968)
Directed by Jean Aurel
Written by Abbé Prévost, Jean Aurel, Cécil Saint-Laurent
Produced by Robert Dorfmann, Yvon Guézel, Luggi Waldleitner
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Sami Frey, Jean-Claude Brialy, Robert Webber, Elsa Martinelli
Transposed to chic, swinging ’60s Paris, this slightly torpid yet titillating umpteenth adaptation of Prévost’s classic fabular novella Manon Lescaut portrays the pursuit of a cosmopolitan bon vivant (Deneuve) by a handsome, sportive news correspondent (Frey) who wins her heart, but not her troth; addicted to her luxe lifestyle, the unscrupulous beauty will bed any man of means to maintain it, and her promiscuity piques his irascibility like an open flame to a dynamite fuse. Perchance the most listless treatment of this narrative, Aurel’s mode here nearly effects sporadic longueur, its finest moments contingent on the considerable charisma of its gorgeous stars and settings. However, his conference of drollery and a perversely modern prurience to this story while dispensing with its tragic conclusion is laudably elegant; a less able filmmaker (as King or Brass) would surely have contrived something approximating dopey softcore porn of a tawdry or soppy mold. Ever debonaire, Brialy steals his every scene as Deneuve’s opportunistic sibling, whose ingratiating cajolery and chicanery coaxes her transient lovers almost as effectually as her enticements. Magnificent orchestral and chamber standards by Vivaldi and a couple of groovy tunes courtesy of Gainsbourg sublime the ambience of this flick’s admittedly trifling proceedings. For languid summer beach parties, this is the picture of choice.

Execrable: The Stendhal Syndrome

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Graziella Magherini, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Produced by Dario Argento, Giuseppe Colombo
Starring Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli, Julien Lambroschini, John Quentin
Would that Asia were born a decade earlier, so that she might’ve starred in those last of her father’s best pictures rather than this byword of the gaucherie so individual of his latter work. Sadly, she’s cast as a Roman detective investigating a rash of rapes and murders spread from the capital to Florence, where she swoons before Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus exhibited at the Uffizi Gallery whilst suffering the titular disorder’s psychosomatic hallucinations shortly before the perpetrator (Kretschmann) she’s tracking seizes her for a vicious bout of rape and torture. His overt demise hardly slows a mounting body count, but even those most obtuse viewers who can’t prognosticate this tardy thriller’s “surprise” twist will probably be too restive for its conclusion to care. That a major motion picture helmed by an auteur whose experience spanned a quarter-century could be so amateurishly shot and cut bewilders Argento’s casual admirers and devotees alike. A few imaginative moments that recall Argento’s masterful past can’t counterpoise silly rotating shots and shabby CG, never mind cheesy dialogue that’s hammily dubbed in the mode of an anime distributed by U.S. Manga Corps — an unusually ill-advised attempt to engage Anglophone audiences, especially considering the Engish fluency of its leads, and most of the supporting players…all of whom are horrendously directed. A repetitive minacity inherent of Morricone’s score is euphoniously arranged, but the vocals of its monody are as risible as anything else heard in the soundtrack. This is the threshold of Argento’s degradation, as unfortunate for the decline of a genre innovator into a cheapjack of mozzarella as for its simultaneity to the blossom of his loveliest, most gifted offspring.

Palatable: Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Written by Julie Maroh, Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix
Produced by Abdellatif Kechiche, Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua, Laurence Clerc, François Guerrar
Starring Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Mona Walravens, Salim Kechiouche, Alma Jodorowsky, Jérémie Laheurte, Benjamin Siksou, Sandor Funtek, Fanny Maurin, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Anne Loiret, Benoît Pilot
If this cynosure of Cannes in 2013 were a tenth so tremendous as industry and press acclaim annunciated, Kechiche might be apotheosed a second coming of Bresson to deliver French cinema from its Americanized doldrums. It isn’t at all, but his vision of Maroh’s graphic novel narrating a sapphic romance’s euphoric commencement, endurance of heartfelt dedication, decline in languorous divergence, tumultuous dissolution and listless aftermath is gorgeous withal, suffused with ambience resounding the breathless intoxication of young love and photographed with a lambence as lovely as its stars. Diffident secondary junior Exarchopoulos quits her perfunctory relationship with an insipid yet sincerely affectionate classmate (Laheurte) who’s underwhelmed her, only to be rebuffed by another (Jodorowsky) while dreaming of an older, boyish art student (Seydoux) who she’s publicly espied, and finally meets at a dyke bar. Their succeeding affair blossoms slowly into a first true love of mutual exploration and adoration as they attain professional success, but infidelity issuing from neglect and restiveness devastates in a week all they’d lovingly nurtured for years. Kechiche emphasizes a fundamental aestheticism with his celebration of natural, physical and painterly beauty in long, luminous shots where environmental irradiance reflects sportive perfervency. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux produce a coupled vitality that transcends mere chemistry: together, they’re incandescent in conversation and coitus alike, never exceeding a realism almost belied by the dynamism of their shared portrayal. Unsparingly graphic but never gratuitous, copulative sequences in which their lovemaking’s exhibited with unadorned, amorous ardor emanate an eroticism unimaginable in the quasi-pornographic pap of Noe or Trier. That titular color’s recurrently conspicuous in its torrid designation as chromatic emblems: bedclothes, vesture, nail polish, ingresses, coastal waters and Seydoux’s pili during the picture’s first half…but never more so than its absence. Scenes in which both girls break bread first with the artist’s Falstaffian mother and stepfather (Loiret, Pilot) and then with the budding pedagogue’s stiflingly conventional parents (Recoing, Salée) seem to bode their respective futures; a temperamental variance benefits their relationship, but from discordance of their ambitions, a certain divarication’s inevitable. Rich visual contrast is no less patent, for Sofian El Fani lenses every scene to beautify the vibrancy of exteriors, attire, flesh, solar effulgence and tenebrious boudoirs. To exploit his leading lady’s naturalism, Kechiche shot a plenitude of Exarchopoulos as her character navigates classrooms and bedrooms, protest marches, parties and pride parades, and though not one among her scores of close-ups seems superfluous, the mundane vapidity that proves her hamartia is occasionally too evident. To observe such an impassioned glorification of the tenderest vehemence championed by vulturine Spielberg to advance his exploitative politics is to know nausea, but the means by which Maroh’s and Kechiche’s story was popularized diminishes neither its quality nor verity: love obliges not only an intensity natural to youth, but a troth and trust of which it’s typically innocent.

Favorites: Le Sauvage

Le Sauvage (1975)
Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Written by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Élisabeth Rappeneau, Jean-Loup Dabadie
Produced by Ralph Baum, Raymond Danon, Jean-Luc Ormières
Starring Yves Montand, Catherine Deneuve, Luigi Vannucchi, Tony Roberts, Bobo Lewis
The tranquil isolation of a rugged yet refined French expatriate (Montand) domiciled on an island off the coast of Caracas is disrupted by a fortuitous encounter with a mercurial newlywed (Deneuve) fleeing her brutish, oleaginous husband (Vannucchi) and an American nightclub owner whose original Toulouse-Lautrec she’s abstracted in redress of his arrearage. An accomplished cast makes the most of their unidimensional roles: Deneuve is as beguiling (and bleached!) as ever, Montand exerts his prodigious presence to exude a curbed fervency, and Vannucchi and Roberts play their farce to the hilt. No less diverting is a fine production design, replete with homemade mechanisms and agriculture demonstrating the inspired functionality of this hermit’s insular lifestyle. It’s as compelling, riotous and romantic as French genre pictures come, parrying prognosis with a novel plot twist every twenty minutes, though its leads’ destined denouement is as ineluctable as satisfying.