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Michael Des Barres
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"The Key" is based on the novel, "Kagi", by the great Japanese author, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. The greatest difficulty with bringing this story to screen is that it has no actual plot. It is about a long-married couple who seem to have lost the ability to communicate honestly.
The wife (Bai Ling) is a conservative, inhibited lover, while her artist husband (David Arquette) is obsessed with sexuality, jealousy, and control.
As the film begins, the wife finds a diary of his sexual fantasies that her husband had accidentally left available for her to see. Yet she refuses to read it, if for no other reason than spite. For the same reason, she begins to keep a diary herself, hoping he will find and read it.
The script is basically each of them telling to the viewer the contents of their diaries,describing their own points of view.
Tanazaki, the novelist, suggests that we "find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and dark which that thing provides."
Taking his advice to heart, director, Jefery Levy, has created a most unusual, beautiful work of art. This is a timeless, surreal world, where the uniquely unsettling cinematography has an ethereal, dreamlike quality, sometimes hallucinatory, as the couple try to communicate secret passions through the unread diaries, as the husband moves from passion to obsession to insanity.
David Arquette is fierce in his role as the sexually driven, tortured artist, continually seeking that which he can't define, while hoping that his wife will read his diary and understand. She, in turn, wishes the same about her diary.
Bai Ling is in full command of her role, and in many ways this may be one of her very best performances. Beautiful, but repressed, she is manipulated by her husband to achieve his desires, until she begins to rival his gradual loss of sanity. The viewer will wonder if it is perhaps she who has become the manipulator. Bai Ling's depth as an artist is on full display here, and you won't soon forget this performance as she captures both the light and the dark which "The Key" provides.
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