Director-writer-composer Mike Figgis once again grafts stylish, moody visuals onto an unbelievably plotted suspense thriller, this one bearing more than a passing resemblance to Kenneth Branagh's DEAD AGAIN, but lacking the latter's energy, cinematic force, and bravura acting.
Nick Kaminsky (Kevin Anderson), an architectural writer, has arrived in Elderstown to meet his dying mother, Mrs. Anderssen (Kim Novak), from whom he was separated as a baby, when by chance he meets Paul Kessler (Bill Pullman), an old college chum who's overseeing the demolition of the local
Ralston Department Store. After saving Paul from falling masonry, Nick is allowed to study the historic building. When Kessler leaves town on business, Nick begins an affair with his attractive photographer wife, Jane (Pamela Gidley), who reveals that she was adopted after a tragic accident killed
her father and drove her mother insane. Later, she further reveals that the Ralston Department Store was closed after Mr. Ralston discovered his wife in flagrante delicto with a store employee; he shot both of them, then himself, but Mrs. Ralston survived, albeit brain-dead.
After witnessing a startling vision inside the Ralston building, Nick learns from his mother's medical records that her married name used to be Munssen, the name of the man shot by Mr. Ralston. He then checks the local police files and discovers a photograph of Mr. Munssen, whose uncanny likeness
to Nick reveals him to be his father. It all comes to a head in a contrived and convoluted conclusion that smacks of script construction by erector set.
Mike Figgis (STORMY MONDAY, INTERNAL AFFAIRS) is clearly more interested in smoldering desires and hidden secrets than in cogent explanations, and as a mood piece LIEBESTRAUM succeeds handsomely. Figgis manages to deploy pauses and nuances in dialogue like a new-wave Harold Pinter and the
suggestive mood and sultry, overripe atmosphere he establishes make every physical tick and eye blink, every stutter and cough, brim with desire and longing. He's also greatly abetted by cinematographer Juan Ruiz-Anchia's stark and evocative images.
The film is also enhanced by Figgis's unusual casting choices. Former Steppenwolf Theater member Kevin Anderson (MILES FROM HOME, ORPHANS) invests the role of Nick with a disturbing undercurrent, making Anderson a much more interesting actor here than in the recent SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY. And
Kim Novak's return to films, although in a thankless role, lends substance to the story and stirs memories of her breakthrough performance in Hitchcock's VERTIGO. As Jane, the relatively unknown Pamela Gidley (DUDES, PERMANENT RECORD) is both beautiful and self-assured as the woman who, unaware of
her own complicity, fills Nick in on the town's dark secrets.
Although LIEBESTRAUM, buoyed by its strong visuals and central performances, stays afloat, Figgis' screenplay proves a less than sturdy vessel. For a suspense film, lack of attention to the narrative spells catastrophe and LIEBESTRAUM, left to manage on style alone, finally founders. The
flashbacks are labored and unseemly and the story unfolds in clunky increments that dissipate the moody, smokey atmosphere Figgis has worked so hard to sustain. Frankly, Figgis promises more than he delivers and ends up falling into the same pit as other Hitchcock wannabees like Curtis Harrington
(WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO?) and middle-period Brian De Palma. Hitchcock always worked from a literate script; Figgis, unfortunately, does not. (Profanity, adult situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Director-writer-composer Mike Figgis once again grafts stylish, moody visuals onto an unbelievably plotted suspense thriller, this one bearing more than a passing resemblance to Kenneth Branagh's DEAD AGAIN, but lacking the latter's energy, cinematic force… (more)