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There's a murky tenuous balance between reality and fiction; particularly when it involves a beautiful young woman, murder, a powerful politico, a missing fortune and suicide. A passionate filmmaker creating a film based upon a true crime casts an unknown mysterious young woman bearing a disturbing resemblance to the femme fatale in the story. Unsuspectingly, he finds himself drawn into a complex web of haunting intrigue, obsessed with the woman, the crime, her possibly notorious past and the disturbing complexity between art and truth. From the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina to Verona, Rome and London, new truths are revealed and clues to other crimes and passions, darker and even more complex are uncovered. Written by
This was among the most exciting news in recent years. A new Monte Hellman film! In the pipeline for some time but released without any hooplah or major headlines, this much was at least proper for a man who's made incognito some of the most unique films in the American underground: Ride in the Whirlwind, The Shooting, Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter. Tapping deep into American soul.
But this one intrigued in a different way; gone but always remembered is the great Warren Oates, gone the mute drifters and brooding dusty alienation of that time, the long silences, but it would not be hackwork for hire, a re-shoot or mere work assignment, this one promised to be a dark personal vision like he hadn't been given the opportunity to direct in a long time.
So gone is Blacktop and Oates, this is a new thing for Hellman. But old in terms of cinema. It is the old trope of a film about a film, filtered through film noir and French New Wave. Lynch, pundits assert.
So one layer is a film about the makings of the film we are watching, referencing a life in movies and around movie sets that Hellman knows too well. Material deliberately chosen to be pulpy and reflecting movie plots that we know from noir is the backbone, a story of illicit love and suicide and behind it political intrigue and stolen money, presumably real events that our visionary filmmaker is fighting to turn into a movie.
Another layer is that story interspersed throughout as a film-within and gradually being shaped into the film being shot. But is it? Or is something more sinister afoot and only masquerading as our film? The idea: where does one dream end and the next begin, and is the space where one bleeds into the other reality or fiction.
The mechanisms that generate images are well sketched: desire, codified as our actress and referencing the femme fatale - another woman playing a role - and film noir dynamics, and the self perceiving itself separate, here very directly our filmmaker selectively framing a part of real life as a moving illusion.
The downside is not that it's slow and muddled as reported by some viewers. The downside is that since Hellman's day we've had several filmmakers probe and abstract deeper. We've had Lynch. This is not as complex or dangerous as believes to be. The machinery is never less than obvious. And occasionally as hamfisted as a camera being mistaken by police for a gun.
Hellman shoots this like it's going to be his crowning achievement. It's not, mostly because in this specific niche compete the most adventurous filmmakers of our time. This is not and has never been Hellman's natural space. He can't help but disappoint. But it's a new Hellman film and in a new direction and that's something to get excited for these days, right?
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