Who needs another killer couple fleeing cross-country with cops in hot pursuit? Yet thanks to this 1998 Australian thriller’s aggressive and unnerving formal approach–jump cuts that hurtle us through the story like a needle skipping across a record and an inventive camera style that defamiliarizes characters as well as settings–the characters’ paranoia is translated into the slithery uncertainty of our own perceptions: this is the most interesting reworking of noir materials I’ve seen since After Dark, My Sweet and The Underneath. The creepy alienation of the lead couple (Frances O’Connor and Matt Day) from their victims and the world in general is eventually replicated in their own relationship, and variations on the same kind of mistrust crop up between the cops pursuing them and in just about every other cockeyed existential encounter in the film. Apart from some juicy character acting and striking uses of landscape, what makes this genre exercise by veteran director Bill Bennett special is the metaphysical climate produced by the style, transforming suspense into genuine dread. The outback is an eyeful too. 95 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 1212 E. 59th St., Thursday, November 30, 7:00, 773-702-8575.
When I spent a day in Brisbane four years ago, it struck me in terms of climate as well as social ambience as being the Mississippi or Louisiana of Australia. That’s only one of the reasons why this grim, passionate, and graphic love story about two highly dysfunctional young individuals–a chain-smoking asthmatic (Peter Fenton) and an irritable, promiscuous, and possibly crazy victim of eczema (Sacha Horler), both unemployed–reminds me of the tale about a doomed couple that forms half of William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms. Another reason is the uncanny way that Andrew McGahan, adapting his own best-selling novel, director John Curran, and cinematographer Dion Beebe have of making their story paradoxically superromantic by keeping it so doggedly antiromantic. With its honesty about sexual inadequacies (his rather than hers), drugs, squalor, and compulsive behavior, this obviously isn’t a film for everyone, but you can’t accuse it of toeing the Hollywood line, and parts of it remind me of Gus Van Sant’s first three movies, before he was swallowed whole by the studios. If you’re looking for something other than the usual cheering up, check this sick puppy out (1999, 98 min.). Music Box, Friday through Thursday, November 17 through 23.
Personally, I’d call the translated title Venus Beauty Salon, because it’s about the women who work at a somewhat tacky Parisian beauty parlora place where something sounding like a harp glissando is heard every time the front door opens. Written and directed by Tonie Marshalla former actress who’s the daughter of French star Micheline Presle and American actor-director William Marshallit won Cesars (the French Oscars) last year for best picture, director, screenplay, and young actress. Though I wouldn’t call it sensational enough to warrant such a sweep, it’s a pretty good chronicle of a certain phase of French working-class life, evocative at times of Claude Chabrol’s Les bonnes femmes and very much enhanced by such wonderful actors as Nathalie Baye and Bulle Ogier. The others, including Samuel Le Bihan, Jacques Bonnaffe, Mathilde Seigner (sister of Emmanuelle), and Audrey Tautou, aren’t bad either. 105 min. (JR)
Are two Arnold Schwarzeneggers better than one? I started out thinking yes but eventually changed my mind, as the law of diminishing returns kicked in. One Arnold takes over the wife, daughter, house, and life of the other in this fitfully enjoyable but overextended SF thriller about cloning, directed by Roger Spottiswoode from a script by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley. When the dictates of routine action take over, some of the satirical possibilities of the theme that were initially tapped are forgotten. Insofar as this is distinguishable from others of its ilk, it’s a far cry from Total Recall, but vastly superior to End of Days; insofar as it isn’t, it’s a clone itself. With Tony Goldwyn, Michael Rapaport, Michael Rooker, Sarah Wynter, Wendy Crewson, and Robert Duvall. 124 min. (JR)
Nine friends from high school now in their 30s converge at a house on the lake for a weekend reunion, in a watchable but not very memorable comedy-drama written and produced by Jerome Courshon and directed by Paul Leaf. The professions range from model (Andrea Leithe) to postal worker (Phil Palisoul) to TV anchor (Mark Porro) to stockbroker (Greg Wrangler) to secretary (Maria McCann), and the routine construction gives us something close to one revelation per character. The cast of semiunknowns is game and likable, but a week or so after previewing this I could barely remember it. 97 min. (JR)