Film / Look, but don't be touched

OTHER RELEASES
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The Independent Culture
Exotica Atom Egoyan / Can (18)

Captives Angela Pope / UK (15)

Les Yeux sans Visages Georges Franju / Fr / Italy (18)

Thin Ice Fiona Cunningham Reid / UK (n/c)

Space Adventure Cobra Osamu Dezaki / Jap (PG)

Atom Egoyan's Exotica has a lot going for it - it's good-looking, literate, agreeably eerie - and a lot going on in it. Set in and around a strip joint that's like a Seventies disco tarted up as a Douanier Rousseau jungle, it weaves around the lives of half-a-dozen solitary but interconnected obsessives, voyeurs and walking wounded.

There's Francis (Bruce Greenwood), a tight-wrapped tax auditor who tries to soothe his emotional scars by having a young stripper, Christina (Mia Kirshner), bump and grind at his table every night; Eric (Elias Koteas), the club's DJ, who is morbidly in love with Christina himself and watches these sessions in masochistic ecstasy; Thomas (Don McKellar), a pet-shop owner who moonlights as a smuggler of exotic bird's eggs and likes to pick up young black and Asian men at the ballet... well, you know the type.

Egoyan has said that he structured Exotica as a kind of thematic striptease, gradually peeling away his layers of plot until all is laid bare, and that's a reasonable description, though it's equally true of most mystery narratives, not to say narrative in general. But if the film shares the taunting glamour of the strippers who strut through the night-club's murk, it's also as heartless and as distant. Egoyan's visuals can have an irritating neatness - the two-way mirror in a customs office is smugly echoed in the club's own two-way mirrors, the pet shop's caged fauna make a sardonic rhyme with the strippers and johns, and so on - and there's a similar patness in the situations and characters, who, for all their densely textured quirkiness, feel more like thesis positions than creatures of flesh. Before long, Egoyan's inventiveness becomes monotonous: you start to pine for just one character who's nice and dull.

There's a touch of the same relish of the outr in Angela Pope's Captives, whose story grows from a sudden, furtive romance between a prison dentist, Rachel (Julia Ormond in her second major role of the week) and one of her dentally challenged inmates, Philip (Tim Roth). Dentist-patient affairs aren't anything new in cinema history - Von Stroheim has a hauntingly sick one in Greed - but Pope manages to extract the maximum erotic charge from their sessions, and as a story of powerful mutual need, Captives is unexpectedly convincing, not least because Roth acts clenched and damaged enough to be a plausible fantasy figure. But Frank Deasey's script soon veers off into more routine thriller territory: other inmates get wind of the romance and blackmail and threaten Rachel into acting as a courier. It all ends as routine thrillers will.

Georges Franju's 1959 film Les Yeux sans Visage, now re-released in an impeccable new print, is the grisly yarn about a mad surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) who abducts beautiful young women, slices off their features and tries, unsuccessfully, to graft this stolen tissue on to the open skull of his daughter. It bears the reputation of being one of the most poetic of all horror films, which is fair enough, when you reflect that a good deal of Western poetry from the Iliad on has actually been pretty gory: the startling element of this re-release isn't the Coctelian lyricism, which now looks a trifle mannered (the masked daughter wandering through a garden at night, releasing doves...) but the B-movie sadism. Four decades of ever more graphic screen horrors haven't blunted its exquisite nastiness.

Say what you will about Fiona Cunningham Reid's Thin Ice, at least it can boast of being the world's first lesbian ice-skating movie. There's not a great deal else to recommend this cheerfully amateurish outing - certainly not its plot, which Enid Blyton might have thought a touch vieux jeu.

Steffi (Sabra Williams) plans to enter New York's 1994 Gay Games as a figure skater; lacking a partner, she seizes on the hapless, heterosexual Natalie (Charlotte Avery). Audiences who are surprised by what Natalie comes to discover about her sexuality may also be surprised by which couple wins the big event. Definitely one for the home team.

A touring festival of Manga films - animated movies from Japan, half- crude, half-dazzling - kicks off at the NFT with Space Adventure Cobra, a feature-length jaunt about a round-eyed, retrouss-nosed, cigar-chomping (in short, American) space pirate who gets into various intergalactic scrapes with Necron, who's a cross between the Silver Surfer and Darth Vader. Though set in the distant future, adults will note that it draws its imagery almost wholly from the past: Star Wars, Marvel comics and the trippier graphics of the old underground press. In those days, the appropriate review would have read "Wow, what are these guys on?" n On release from Friday

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