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Movie Reviews: "Afterglow" and "Ma Vie en Rose (My life in pink)"

February 18, 1998|By Jason Myers

Few actresses have aged more primely than Julie Christie, whose lines are as sleek and eyes as blue as they were in "Doctor Zhivago." So it is a tonic bit of irony in Alan Rudolph's challenging, complex romance "Afterglow" that Christie portrays Phyllis Mann, a washed up B-movie actress.

Christie, who has received an Academy Award nomination for her work, gives Phyllis melancholic nuances and gray shades of bitter humor. She savors self-aggrandizing stories and tart one-liners like a vintner tasting wines.

Phyllis wallows in the stagnancy of her marriage to Lucky (Nick Nolte) - get it? Lucky Mann? Rudolph sometimes allows his jocularity to get the best of him - he's a contractor/builder who has extramarital dalliances to rival President Clinton. Phyllis watches - over and over again - scenes from her "glory" days and longs for her estranged daughter, whom she and Lucky have followed to Montreal hoping to redeem her.

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But Rudolph doesn't intend to document the moroseness of a middle-aged woman; he has a farce in mind. Rudolph writes dialogue with distinctive flair - stilted, smart, sophisticated and often so ripe with poetic sensibility that you wonder if he is mocking himself. That would seem the case with much of the overwrought plot contortions, which would seem so obviously a parody of romantic comedies if they were not handled with such solemn sentiment.

As Lucky woos his latest client, Marianne Byron (Lara Flynn Boyle), Mr. Byron (Jonny Lee Miller) prowls for an older woman to satisfy his sexually confused appetite. Guess who he should seduce but Phyllis.

Rudolph's direction ties everything together so rigorously, assembling the characters in embarrassingly staged situations, that the spontaneity and joyful unpredictability of love - that thing the film and characters so want to attain - eludes "Afterglow." Perhaps this is intentional, Rudolph's way of laughing at his characters' romantic conventions, but that would only diffuse any sincerity and sympathy invested in the characters. Rudolph certainly avoids the pratfalls of prosaic romantic comedies. But he and his actors seem to have divergent aims; Nolte and Christie in particular give such natural, human performances, while Rudolph saturates them in ethereal light and music.

"I don't know what I like, but I know what art is," Lucky jokes at one point. Rudolph does not care whether you understand his film, as long as you consider it a work of art. With Christie providing such a subversive example of beauty - older, more mature, with depth and a few wrinkles (let's see Pamela Lee look so good when she reaches 50) - you almost do not care her director is so arrogant.

Where Christie signifies a dignified and elegant form of beauty, the Barbie-esque doll who plays a prominent role in the Dutch film "Ma Vie En Rose (My Life in Pink)" represents our obsession with streamlined, synthetic image.

This charming fable about a little boy, Ludovic (Georges du Fresne), uncertain about gender, disarms the viewer with its innocent point-of-view addressing sexual ambivalence. Ludovic likes to wear his sister's dresses, keep his hair at shoulder length and play with dolls. This film cleverly bypasses two extremes by refusing to judge Ludovic's behavior.

Alain Berliner has made a film with the eye of Lichtenstein - using a limited palette of gaudy colors, he creates a vivid world which appears one-dimensional but has depths of humor and sorrow.

He peoples Ludovic's family and neighborhood with interesting, realistic people, and a bubbly tone makes "Ma Vie En Rose" a most enjoyable experience. It deals with matters of sexual identity and societal bigotries in such an offhand and witty manner that you do not even realize how the film alters your perceptions. There are wonderful, Wizard-of-Oz moments of fantasy in which Ludovic flees to a gilded, perfect world with Pam, apparently Barbie to the Netherlands.

"Afterglow," when not too amused with itself, and especially "Ma Vie En Rose," transcend our everyday perceptions of what is beautiful.

Jason Myers is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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