A queasy, unpleasant psychological sex drama somewhat redeemed by a solid cast, this English-language debut by Spanish director Fernando Trueba starts murkily and turns progressively more dark, turgid, and confusing, almost negating the efforts of its actors. Jeff Goldblum stars as Dan
Gillis, an expatriate American screenwriter living in Paris on occasional commercial-feature assignments from a French pal, producer Legrand (Daniel Ceccaldi). As the film begins, Dan's wife, Marianne (Anemone), is leaving him and their young son, Danny (Jerome Natali), for unspecified reasons.
Distracting Dan from his dismal homelife, Legrand calls the writer in to pitch a change-of-pace art film inspired by a line in PETER PAN that also inspired Dan's sole, out-of-print novel. But Dan is unimpressed when he meets the director, an intense, chain-smoking British wunderkind named Malcolm
(Dexter Fletcher), whose meager claims to fame include an award-winning short film and a handful of music videos. Dan is ready to chalk up Legrand's unwarranted enthusiasm to an artistic mid-life crisis, but he reserves judgement when Malcolm reveals that it was his own enthusiasm for Dan's novel
that has led him to seek out the writer's services. A screening is arranged of Malcolm's short, a Warholian exercise with a commercial gloss, consisting solely of a head-and-shoulders shot of a disturbingly youthful girl, played by Malcolm's sister, Jenny (Liza Walker), in an unmistakable state of
adult sexual ecstasy. The short leaves Legrand transfixed in a way peculiar to producers. "I don't know what it means," he declares. "But this is a work of art!" Now embarrassed as well as unimpressed, Dan meets with his agent, Marilyn (Miranda Richardson), who compounds his misgivings with her
own vague warnings not to get involved with Malcolm and Jenny. Finally, agent and client decide to offer Dan's services, but for twice his normal fee. In a series of messages on his answering machine, Dan learns that Legrand is outraged by his friend's high-priced offer and that Marilyn is
apologetic for souring her client's relations with the producer. Those messages are followed by a mysterious call from Malcolm assuring Dan that everything will work out. Sure enough, almost magically, everything does work out, though Marilyn persists in her dire warnings. Visiting Malcolm's loft
residence for a working session, Dan discovers that Malcolm is even flakier than he first appeared. But Dan's inclination to leave disappears once he lays eyes on the nymphet star of Malcolm's short, who lives with her brother. As Dan's involvement with Malcolm's film deepens, so, too, does the
writer's obsession with Jenny. That obsession is brought to a boil when Dan, reaching a creative impasse with Malcolm, is seduced by Jenny. However, the episode arouses Dan's suspicions as well as his libido. After Legrand reads Dan and Malcolm's screenplay and declares it unfilmable--the clear
implication being that Dan and Malcolm have written a kiddie-porn epic--Dan lingers outside Legrand's office. Within an hour, his festering suspicions are confirmed when Jenny, dressed to thrill, shows up at the office. Shortly thereafter, the project is back on track. Confronted by Dan, Jenny
confesses that she has been bestowing her favors on both Dan and Legrand to keep the film going. Dan later discovers that, far from being Jenny's pimp, Malcolm is his sister's pawn. Behind his hip facade, Malcolm is a feckless drug addict, utterly helpless without Jenny. But these disclosures
hardly matter. By this point, Dan and Legrand have been reduced to craven submission by Jenny's sexual manipulation. Rather than abandoning the project, they use their influence to involve a major star (Arielle Dombasle), assuring backing for the film that, Dan confesses in TWISTED OBSESSION's
very first moments, should never have been made. Matters go from bad to worse when Jenny disappears, presumed dead, and Dan's suspicions turn to Marilyn's shadowy role.
Despite its provocative subject, TWISTED OBSESSION is finally too cool for its own good. Smart, stylish, and gorgeously photographed (by Jose Luis Alcaine, whose credits include Almodovar's WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN), it nevertheless fails to build to any compelling climax.
Instead, the film resorts to a frenzied tying up of loose plot ends. Most notably, Dan spends a hellish evening in the basement morgue of a medical school, where he has come in search of Jenny's remains.
Walker is sufficiently beguiling and beautiful as Jenny, but she is not well-served by the script (cowritten by Trueba and Manolo Matji from Christopher Frank's novel The Mad Monkey). Jenny seems to control everything and everybody in the film, even after her disappearance, yet the script almost
perversely keeps her away from any direct involvement in the action. As a result Walker's performance is a void at the film's center rather than the driving force that it should be. It is left, then, to Goldblum to convey the power and pathos of Jenny through his complex reactions to her. In his
best-known performance, in David Cronenberg's THE FLY, Goldblum revealed a dramatic flair for giving a fantastic premise recognizably human credibility, and he continues to exhibit that talent here. Through his eyes, we come to see the remnants of the child in Jenny that have been stifled and
hardened by her too-early submersion in adult sexuality, giving the film an emotional clarity and substance it otherwise lacks. The other cast members give similarly accomplished performances, with the ubiquitous Fletcher standing out along with Richardson, Ceccaldi, and the leads. It's
unfortunate that the film never quite fulfills the expectations these performers raise. (Adult situations, sexual situations, profanity.)
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