Film Scouts Reviews


by Karen Jaehne

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"No fish were actually harmed in the making of this film." This is how Steven "sex, lies and videotape" and "Kafka" Soderbergh - begins his new movie, which premiered as a surprise film at Cannes this morning. The biggest surprise is that nobody understands it. On the other hand, that's not so surprising....

If Ionesco were to write TV sit-coms, they would be like this. There is nothing literal about the picture. The dialogue is either nonsense, non-sequiturs or double-speak. But the emotion and intention behind the actors is genuine, so we always know what they mean. The movie is a brilliant example of absurdist folly.

Soderbergh himself plays the (anti-)hero who is a speechwriter in a a Scientology-like motivational mill - hello, Kafka! And as the narrator, he introduces himself by saying, "At the age of four, I tried to lose my parents at a Fourth of July picnic, because I wanted to be an orphan" (the opposite of so many other festival films in which people search endlessly for their parents).

The contradictions inherent in the petty anxieties of corporate work plague our hero. And in a pique of confusion we are also introduced to the Elron Hubbard dude, who is preaching "Eventualism," the theory that everything just happens - eventually.

My favorite shtick is in the domestic comedy that we see whenever our hero and his wife speak: "Generic greeting," he says, coming through the door after a hard day's work. "Generic response," she replies with a smile, asking him how his day was: "Adirondack rug you can't hang fire hydrants." - or something along those lines. It's totally disconnected with our expectations, and yet it fulfills them in an ironic commentary on the meaninglessness of what we all say to each other.

There is also a charming bit of nonsense regarding the CEO's suspicion that there is a spy or mole, or both, loose in the house. The self-negating logic of tracking down this betrayer of the status quo is a wonderful exercize in surrealism.

The movie is ultimately an exercize - a kind of aerobics of wit and intelligence. It will fly right over the heads of the literal-minded folks who like bedtime stories. It will tickle and delight festival audiences, so see it at the next film festival in your town. That's going to be its life - and I doubt there will be much action beyond that venue. But festivals are about art, and this is as good as Man Ray.

"Schizopolis" means split-city, so if your town fits the description, you may even need to see this. For New Yorkers, it should be a requirement for residency.

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