The London Film Festival's safe bet

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The Independent Culture
I can't vouch for everything in the coming week of the London Film Festival, but there is at least one modern masterpiece on show: Safe, the new film by Todd Haynes, the American independent director best known for his 1991 film Poison.

Julianne Moore plays Carol White, a timid Los Angeles housewife whose life is one of smooth, dust-free surfaces and immaculate symmetry (she almost goes into shock when the wrong colour sofa is delivered to her house). Which makes it all the more traumatic when she suddenly finds herself suffering from an environmental disease - she becomes allergic to everything around her, losing her breath, bursting out in rashes and spitting blood. As a last resort, she checks into a New Mexico ranch, a disturbingly tranquil underworld where she mingles with other zombie- like victims of the same ailment.

There's nothing very comforting here, from the unsettling hum of Ed Tomney's electronic score to the apparent disdain that Haynes initially has for his central character. But the picture yields secrets, and innuendoes - there is drama and horror hidden in every casual glance, hurtful word, or the simple matter of a drive through the LA traffic. You'll need to see it a few times to make sense of it, because it envelops you like mist. But one thing will hit you first time out: there is no other actress quite like Julianne Moore. Even if you were unimpressed by her in Short Cuts and Vanya on 42nd Street (which, let's face it, is unlikely), you won't fail to find her wan, haunted performance here mesmerising.

n `Safe' is showing Sun 6.15pm and Tue 1.30pm, Odeon West End. Booking: 0171-928 3232. On general release April 1996