Cinema: What a swell party this is
Human Traffic (18) Justin Kerrigan; 95 mins Jean de Florette (PG) Claude Berri; 121 mins The Deep End of the Ocean (12) Ulu Grosbard; 107 mins Without Limits (12) Robert Towne; 118 mins Virus (18) John Bruno; 99 mins Vigo - Passion for Life (15) Julien Temple; 103 mins Crush Proof (18) Paul Tickell; 91 mins Citizen Kane (U) Orson Welles; 119 mins
Sunday 06 June 1999
Of course there are those who say that Human Traffic will encourage people to take ecstasy (I use "will" deliberately - the neurotic only ever talk in absolutes) just as there were those who felt David Cronenberg's Crash would galvanise people into whizzing up the M5 in their panties, hoping to meet an enormous van. These films are vilified because, while occupying an interest in the workings of people's minds, they do not hold their noses as they pass through the garbage. In fact, the garbage is what attracted the film-makers in the first place. They are films told from the inside, putting themselves right at the centre of the consciousness of their characters, full of the language of excitement. They are too authentic, too alive to both beatitude and peril to be either genuinely philosophical or dangerous. It's an entirely absorbing kind of baldness.
Human Traffic follows one night in the life of Jip (John Simm), a soft- hearted party animal. He loves his friends, especially the bolshy Lulu (Lorraine Pilkington). But his keen ecstasy habit has rendered him temporarily impotent, so Lulu and her effervescent hair and soft mouth are off limits. First, the build-up. The five friends sit in the pub. The boys wear big T-shirts, the girls are all glitter and catsuits and wisecracks. They are excited but nervous, drinking lager and smoking and gently bitching, waiting for the drugs to take effect. Next, the club. They dance like maniacs, "off their pickles, and feeling the music", certain that this night and this tone will go on for ever. Then there's the party, in some big house somewhere, full of people congregating around half-full packets of sweat-damp cigarettes, all voicing the babble of the chemically muddled. It's dawn and people are leaving. Horrible feeling. Those left behind are increasingly cold in their skin, lapsing into fretful silences, suddenly wanting "a warm bed and a friendly therapist" more than anything in the world.
Kerrigan's film is very frank, particularly in its blatantly derivative moments. At one point, one character comes up with a whole new meaning to Star Wars, in a scene lifted almost intact from a film called Sleep With Me, in which Quentin Tarantino did a turn as a drunk git at a party proving categorically that the film Top Gun is passionately homo- erotic. There's also a fantasy documentary sequence, featuring a very straight reporter walking into the club and observing with removed fascination these kids and their chat and moves, just like the episode on the made- up drug "cake" on Chris Morris's Brass Eye.
And the hyper, in-your-face style of cutting and character introduction is indeed just as in Trainspotting. But all these moments, these films, these characters, are favourites of clubbers, so to parade them here is just like a series of in-jokes, intended purely for those who inhabit the arena of this film. It is made for and about the party scene.
Human Traffic considers the well-documented troubles that can attend the regular use of ecstasy. Two characters are sexually poleaxed, two become increasingly paranoid; and the film manages to speak frankly of these problems as very much in the nature of the drug. It's clear that the side-effects are not in the least bit separate. They come complicatedly hand-in-hand with the obvious fun to be had: high as a kite, feeling like Isabelle Adjani in love with Ryan O'Neal, and just as beautiful.
Like the drug it half-toasts, half-worries over, Kerrigan's film is wholly hedonistic - there to be used and kissed goodbye. If ecstasy is a drug taken to provoke a sense of community (however cock-eyed) this film does too - it premiered last weekend to a crowd of 40,000 at the Heartlands Festival. It is the only film about drugs worth seeing because it impulsively and wittily beats its fists against boring, specious, carping society. And it's never naff.
Claude Berri's 1986 odyssey Jean de Florette has a re-release this week, thanks to a new print. It is the story of a hunchback (Gerard Depardieu) and his family trying to scrape a living on their new land in Provence, unaware that Cesar, their neighbour (Yves Montand), and his half-witted nephew have blocked up their spring. The film is a poem to colour. Everything is red and green and gold - the trees heavy with sunrise, the twilight the colour of melons and willows.
What struck me again and again was the clarity of Depardieu's face. He has never looked so open, so present. His skin is paler than everybody else's - his character is from the city, and yet to be cooked by the land - and this paleness lends him an immaculacy. There's always the sense of his being artless, and so destined to anger the earth-devil, with all his trust and optimism. The whole thing is sublime.
The Deep End of the Ocean really belongs on the television, since its subject-matter is the kind that usually comes in two parts, spied when doing the ironing. Michelle Pfeiffer plays a mother whose middle child, Ben, is snatched from a hotel lobby. Nine years later, she is just about able to cope with missing him; but the experience has scarred the equilibrium of her remaining children, particularly her eldest, Vincent, whose last words to his little brother were "get lost". One day, she spots a boy mowing lawns. He is plump and happy-looking. Pfeiffer is convinced he's Ben. This film works on a very simple level - what to do when you're left holding the cinders? Pfeiffer is particularly good. She does harassed very well, as though determined to establish that she too knows how it is to be busy, heaped- up and coiled, a woman with no time to glance at the mirror and see such perfection staring back.
Without Limits is the second bio-pic to be about the 1970s American long- distance runner Steve Prefontaine. It is an old-fashioned but likeable piece of work. Prefontaine loved to run up at the front and as fast as possible. He didn't appreciate any advice about technique from his coach Bill Bowerman, who went on to found Nike, with the shoes he hand-modelled for Prefontaine using a waffle-maker. Prefontaine was troublesome and handsome, his shoulders and high-school thighs and round face transfigured by speed. He died very young, but just who he was as opposed to how he was remains a mystery.
The premise in Virus is canny enough; but what follows is rot. An alien arrives on a seabound Russian science vessel. It has no real form, but starts building itself a "body" out of the electronic goods scattered about the ship. Soon, tiny worker-gadgets are building like crazy, and using members of the crew as spare parts.
Enter Donald Sutherland (brandishing, it seems, all the film's hopeless superficiality) as the captain of a passing ship. He always wears his cap at a jaunty angle, even after he's been chopped up and turned into something scary with cameras for eyes.
Vigo - Passion for Life tries to tell how the French cineaste Jean Vigo (1905-1934) got to be so skilled and so unorthodox. Naturally, love must come into this, so we have Vigo (James Frain) romancing Lydu (Romane Bohringer) in an Alpine sanatorium, then it's off to Nice for sex, and Paris for hunger. Julien Temple is clearly enraptured by his poetic protagonist, but is let down by his cast of foolish characters and an excruciatingly mediocre script.
Crush Proof is an entirely manic film about a young Irish ex-con who finds himself and his gang of north Dublin pony kids involved in a heap of improbable dramas, ranging from accidental death to inter-family loathing. The film is chaotic and abrasive. And Orson Welles's monomaniacal, perfect Citizen Kane gets re-released this week. This is a film I'd like to write loads about or not at all. Not at all, then.
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