Film: Lean and mean and full of genes

Film: Lean and mean and full of genes

UNLESS you are Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, Jude Law or one of the sleek, six-foot extras that populate Gattaca (15), Andrew Niccol's hi-tech parable may leave you feeling a little lumpen. Set in an imminent future in which parents can choose their childrens' characteristics like dial-a-pizza toppings and putative lovers test the purity of each other's DNA before agreeing to a first date, it's genuinely thought-provoking.

Gattaca is a film whose power lies more in the skill with which it exploits your anxieties than for the originality of its drama. The plot is recycled Aldous Huxley: the world is divided into a genetically-engineered elite of beautiful, brainy "valids", and an underclass of "in-valids" with dicky hearts, paunches and spectacles. Myopic "in-valid" Vincent (Ethan Hawke) buys up the blood and urine of an embittered, crippled, but biologically blessed ex-athlete (Jude Law) in order to infiltrate the powerful Gattaca corporation, and get his chance to be part of a mission to Saturn. Beating Gattaca's security systems - and the suspicion of star employee Uma Thurman - requires Hawke to strap himself up with sachets of Jude Law's bodily fluids.

Niccol's dystopia is a burnished world of beech and steel that glows under an ozone-depleted daylight. It is as clinical, contoured and beautifully lit as an Oliver Peyton restaurant. But Niccol seems to have been seduced by these attractive surfaces, and fails to make much of a case for warts- and-all individualism. Since Ethan Hawke is hardly a boot-faced hunchback, it's a little difficult to take any message about the joys of physical diversity from him. His character, moreover, isn't really a rebel of any kind, but a man convinced that he can surpass the physical and mental excellence of his eugenic "betters" by working out and genning up on rocket science. This isn't resistance. It's simply a more energetic form of conformity.

"There is no gene for the human spirit," insists the poster, but Niccol keeps the soul on the sub's bench. Instead, his film makes disapproving noises about genetic hegemony, and then slyly celebrates the virtues of the six-pack stomach. That said, it remains a furiously persuasive picture of a genetic totalitarianisman which may already be here. And this is reason enough to see it: Gattaca may nurse a secret passion for the alliance between body fascism and the petri dish, but its sheer plausibility demands your attention - even though it may leave you looking anxiously into the bathroom mirror, worrying about the state of your genes.

If the Riefenstahlian contours of the Gattacans leave you regretting last night's bag of chips, then you may be cheered by the carefree beering, whoring, farting and swashbuckling that goes on in Randall Wallace's The Man in the Iron Mask (12). You'll know the plot from the book or the six other filmed versions. Bad King Louis XIV of France (Leonardo DiCaprio) has an identical twin brother (Leonardo DiCaprio) imprisoned in the Bastille. The once celebrated but now rather tumble-down Musketeers - Aramis (Jeremy Irons, reprising the gentle sanctity of his Richard II), Athos (a creepily camp John Malkovich) and Porthos (a shambling, hairy Gerard Depardieu) have a plan to switch around the royal pair and thus save France from revolution (well, they weren't to know).

Wallace offers all sorts of glorious silliness in a Hollywood-style France where people say "mon dieu" and "enchante", but also "Once a musketeer, always a musketeer, huh?" Irons disguises himself as an obese priest; Depardieu shows his bum-crack and negotiates an unsubtle physical gag involving pigeon excrement; nubile court ladies roll out from under Leonardo DiCaprio and exclaim "Oh, Louis, you are right - a woman has never known love until she has known the love of a king!" After the censorious postbag I received when I was a little rude about Leo in my review of Titanic, perhaps I should let the final verdict on his performance be pronounced by my friend Lizzie, who has seen James Cameron's epic five times, and whose mother kindly let her skive off school to come to the press screening of The Man in the Iron Mask. "Very good," she says. And I agree. It's dumb-ass Dumas. But only the most tight-sphinctered curmudgeon would willingly resist its cheerful pleasures.

Personally, I think there's nothing more boring than middle-class literary types banging on about their extra-marital affairs. This is possibly why I've never really got on with Julian Barnes's novel Talking it Over, and why I approached Marion Vernoux's adaptation of the book, Love Etc (15), with some trepidation. Relocating the story to Paris, however, makes perfect sense, as Barnes's characters are just the types that French film-makers adore: articulate, over-educated, and able to live cosy lifestyles in beautifully appointed apartments without ever seeming to spend much time at work. Moreover, the mechanics of the three-way relationship between Pierre (Charles Berling, of Ridicule), Marie (Charlotte Gainsbourg, of Jane Eyre) and Benoit (Yvan Attal) are much more plausible when translated into French. There's no word in English for menage-a-trois, and with good reason - they do this sort of thing much better than we do. Vernoux's deft handling of the plot's interpersonal intricacies bears this out, and though I'd quibble with her decision to convert some of the narration into a series of inappropriately daffy monologues, this remains smart, strong, emotionally cogent work.

The sexual complexity of Tsai Ming-liang's The River (no cert) makes Vernoux's Parisian threesome look like fairly uncomplicated arithmetic. Shot in pitilessly long takes, Ming-liang's movie details a series of incidents in the lives of a dysfunctional Taiwanese family. Mother (Lu Hsiao-ling) is having an affair with a pornographer. Father (Miao Tien) cruises the gay saunas of Taipei, and picks up rent boys in McDonald's. Their son, Xiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng) has a painful neck injury that acupuncture, bone-crunching chiropractic sessions and exorcism will do little to assuage. Though it's not exactly a pleasure, Ming-liang's film is a rarefied cinematic experience, almost evacuated of dialogue, unfolding its story through fastidiously detailed images. Don't bother to read the subtitles, just surrender to the slow current of his scenes.

Cinema details: Going Out, page 11.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

    £120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Music Teacher

    £120 - £180 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Newham Position: Music Start dat...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science teacher

    £120 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Sutton Position: Science teacher S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee