New Line // 1999 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // February 19th, 2001
Nothing can cure the soul but the senses. -- Oscar Wilde
Out of Canada comes a wonder for the film festival crowd; a film beautifully shot and directed, about people doing nothing and remaining adrift. This is a film film critics love to love; but those of us with more pedestrian tastes will be happy to leave it to the arthouse crowd. You know who you are; if arthouse fare is for you, you'll like this a lot more than I did. This is a New Line release, but not one of their famous Platinum Series, which means few extras but a choice of widescreen or pan and scan transfers.
Rona is a cake maker with a fine decorative sense but her cakes are bland and tasteless. Her friend Robert is a bisexual house cleaner who is convinced he can sniff someone and tell if they love him. Rona takes up with an Italian chef who constantly cooks great food but can't speak English. Ruth is a masseuse and mother of Rachel, a voyeuristic young girl who feels estranged from life. Neighbor Richard is an eye doctor who is slowly losing his hearing and makes frantic lists of sounds he wants to hear again before it is too late.
Each of these characters represent a sense that either they find predominate in their lives, or one they lack. Some of them know each other, some don't, but they all live or work in the same building, and there is one overarching plot device: a young girl disappears while under the less than careful watch of Rachel. Each character reacts to the disappearance in their own way. The senses they represent also influence how they react to this and other situations.
This film is artfully artistic. Arty, artsy, artful, artistic art. Writer/director Jeremy Podeswa is truly an artiste behind the camera; he made a beautifully filmed picture. Very artistic. Hopefully you are noting the trend here; before I belabor the point with too many more uses of the word "art." His use of light, both cold and blue and warm and golden is superb; his framing spot on, and he knows how to best elicit the emotion he wants from his camera angles. If he could bring that to a script I remotely cared about I'd be happy, but this section is not the place for those comments.
Performances are uniformly good if not great; and there are several deeply emotional scenes that give the actors their chance to shine. This is certainly an ensemble piece with no real star, though many of the characters do not interact with each other.
New Line did a fine job with the DVD, especially for this indie type of film. You have a choice of 1.85:1 anamorphic or pan and scan transfers; I will only review the widescreen. The coldly lit outdoor scenes and warmly lit indoor shots are rendered well, with good color saturation when called for and a muted color palette when the director chose that route. The level of detail was sharp without much in the way of edge enhancement or artifacts. Only some apparent grain mars an otherwise terrific transfer. The sound is adequate; though the 2.0 English track was a bit flat and center driven. The emotionally charged musical score came through clearly and was perhaps the only use for any of the other channels. As usual with these New Line non-Platinum releases, extra content is sparse, being only a trailer and filmographies for the director and cast.
Sorry the positive defense of the film was so short. If you want glowing praise, read other film critics compete in how much to gush over it. Films can be art, they can be entertainment, and the best of them can be both. Some get great pleasure out of art for art's sake. It is a rare film that can elicit that response from me. This one wasn't one of them. Characters who do nothing, do not grow or develop, and have any sense of story left hanging doesn't work for me. There are mini-stories going on with each character, but most of them get left unresolved. The best of those mini-stories came from the eye doctor losing his hearing; as he strains to hear music or other sounds the feelings are poignant and bittersweet, eliciting strong emotion. Not the emotion I was in the mood for, especially when there was the potential for other happier ones that never materialized.
Never materialized: those words could describe my opinion of the film as a whole. I kept waiting for something to develop, and approximately 18 hours later (less than two in reality, but it seemed much longer) nothing ever did. Characters drift around and stories shift from person to person, but not much happens. The only thing I ever wanted to know during the film was if the little girl was all right, and once I knew the answer it was only a long slow painful trek to the end where nothing happens. I am sure this was all stylistic and creative choices of the writer; and some people seem to like that sort of thing. Guess Mr. Podeswa got the wrong critic this time.
I've tried to be fair and let you know that arthouse fans and the film festival crowd loved this film, while being honest and telling you I'd rather not have to ever see it again. If you think Sundance is the Mecca for quality films then give it a rental. If you're like me you'll be glad it was me and not you who had to watch it.
The makers of the film are guilty of arthouse pretension and are sentenced to eternal showings at film festivals where they are likely happiest anyway. New Line gets and acquittal; they did a good job with the disc and even arthouse folks deserve New Line treatment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R