Few would have dared touch Delphine de Vigan’s bestseller, Based on a True Story, with a ten-foot pole. Hailed as gloriously “un-adaptable” – warning off salivating directors everywhere – translating the introspective ‘autobiographical novel’ to the big screen seemed tantamount to career suicide. That is, for lesser filmmakers than Roman Polanski.
And he’s coaxed quite the thrill-fest out of the original. Crippled by writer’s block after the double-edged response to her last book, Delphine is on the brink of depression when she crosses paths with L, a bewitching ghostwriter. The parasitic woman wastes no time in making herself insidiously indispensable by acting as a confidante, personal assistant and even home nurse, plying a depleted Delphine with a cocktail of antidepressants.
Not content with encroaching on every aspect of Delphine’s life Single White Female-style, L starts to mimic her mannerisms and dress like her until the two (in her eyes) are virtual doppelgängers. In a bizarre scene, she actually offers to pass herself off as Delphine at a school reading.
A slow-burner at first, the psychological thriller hits fever-pitch and lands in Misery territory as L eventually holds an ailing and borderline delirious Delphine ‘hostage’. Polanski’s sultry take on the reality-bending novel glosses over much of the story’s premise: keen to return to the safe fold of fiction but under pressure to bare her private life further in the wake of her family memoir’s success, Delphine finds herself at a crossroads in her career.
The gritty cat-and-mouse also does away with the ambiguity at the heart of the book and the nagging feeling L may be a figment of Delphine’s strained imagination. No matter, the claustrophobic two-hander masterfully leads us by the nose, teasing a catastrophic climax, only to cheat us out of any sense of resolution in the truly head-spinning finale.