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John Gordon Sinclair
Helen is a young woman running a hairdressing salon; Bob is her boyfriend and local radio DJ; Honda is a mute kid who's secretly taping people's conversation and Smokey is Honda's sister who sings at local bar. New guy in town is the mysterious Martin, who shares some dark history with Helen and observes her from afar at first. Honda falls in love with Helen and starts taping her conversations with Bob, and that leads to reactivation of the Helen-Martin relationship. Written by
Underrated trawl through the realms of obsession and deceit
Director Michael Winterbottom doesn't make conventional British films. His work has the austere demeanour and unrestrictive sense of experimentation that we normally associate with the European aesthetic of filmmakers like Herzog, Kieslowski, Bergman, et al. This ideology is further illustrated by the film in question, with the director employing the esteemed cinematographer of Kieslowski's A Short Film About Killing (1987), Slavomir Idziak, to create the dark, noir-like underworld of disintegrating coastal beach huts and seedy promenades where these mysterious characters come to congregate. It's one of those films that puts atmosphere before everything else; a film in which the long pauses between dialog and the odd sideways glance of a character says more than an explanatory line of dialog ever could. If you have a problem with films of this nature - the kind that leaves questions and images lingering in the viewer's mind for weeks to follow - then this probably won't be the film for you.
The plot is, on first glance, a simple one; relying on a series of emotional triggers whilst also playing with the usual cinematic chronology to go backwards and forwards into an event from the past. However, as we further explore the films sub-textual ideologies and the shadowy morals of the central quartet of characters, we discover hidden depths that have more to do with perception, memory and perspective. Winterbottom sets up an idea that each character sees a particular event in a certain way, so that we end up with multiple viewpoints all jostling for our attention. The resulting plot becomes much more of a puzzle, as we are further immersed within the shocking incident that bookends the narrative. Added to this, we are also given a narrator who cannot be trusted, which in turn leads us into a series of twists which expose the characters true intentions. The ultimate pay off comes right out of nowhere and knocks us off our feet, as the director subverts everything that we've previously seen and turns it into an almost epiphany. It's one of the most satisfying pay offs to a crime thriller that I've seen in some time.
The photography of Idziak takes us into further labyrinthine realms that perfectly complement the seedy atmosphere and perpetual drive of lust and obsession, with the entire film relying on various colour filters that not only highlight the mood, but also act as a visual anchor to the characters and the emotional context of the moment. The music too is detailed and significant, with Winterbottom using a series of musical motifs to expressionistically represent the emotional underlining of the characters. In a film that relies on sound as such an integral component of the script this is expertly handled. The inclusion of Elvis Costello's eponymous anthem from which the film takes its title is totally relevant, and certainly adds a much-needed sense of abstract, fragmented reality to the self-contained world of the plot. The central performances only help to give the film an even greater sense of added depth, with the two youngsters Luka Petrusic and Lubina Mitevska complementing the more seasoned members of the cast perfectly. In the lead role of Helen, Rachel Weisz exudes a provocative, sexual energy, whilst Alesandro Nivola is a revelation as the broken-down Martin.
I Want You (1998) is, for me, one of the most striking and evocative cinematic works of the last decade. An example of British cinema pushed beyond the realms of kitchen-sink and ably demonstrating a sense of visual imagination rare for this kind of genre. This is an exception film for those who enjoy their thrillers with a dark underlining and a distinctly multi-dimensional edge.
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