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No Sleep for the Wicked

The psychopathology of choice at the movies—the split-personality syndrome that helped Gwyneth Paltrow find true love in Sliding Doors, transformed Edward Norton into Brad Pitt in Fight Club, resolved Rachel Griffiths's career/family conflict in Me Myself I, and facilitates Jim Carrey's precipitous mood swings in next month's Me, Myself & Irene—has an especially discombobulating effect on poor Demi Moore. "I don't know who I am anymore," the distraught diva mumbles in the opening voice-over to her cred-seeking vehicle, Passion of Mind. Half the time, she's Marie, a widowed mother of two living in the south of France; but Marie falls asleep every night to awake as Marty, a single New York literary agent. And so on. The delusion is seamless: Marty/Marie is fully cognizant of her two lives (she sometimes refers to herself in the third person) but unable to accept that one of them is imagined. A reality check takes the form of competing lovers: suave novelist Stellan Skarsgard and diffident accountant William Fichtner.

Oddly distracted and enervated, Passion of Mind is an out-of-body experience for its viewers as well as its heroine. Belgian director Alain Berliner reprises the vivid color scheme, if not the light, emphatic touch, of Ma Vie en Rose, flip-flopping between warm, saturated tones for Provence and chilly gray-blues for the big city. If there's a chief culprit here, it's Ron Bass, who wrote Passion of Mind years ago before becoming the Hollywood automaton responsible for My Best Friend's Wedding and Dangerous Minds. Too spacey for psychodrama, too sludgy for magic realism, Bass's script (he reportedly disallowed changes) is encrusted in so many layers of cryptic cornball it seems to have forced Berliner into a defensive torpor. (Fighting the two-pronged assault of daftness and languor, the mind wanders. . . . What happens if Demi takes a nap? Is she instantly plopped down into her other existence? If she stays up all night in one life, does she fall behind a day in the other? If she oversleeps, does she miss a day? Does she really sleep at all? If not, why are there no bags under her eyes? If Igo to sleep now, what are my chances of waking up at a different movie?)

Most of the actors, taking Berliner's cue, exhibit a laid-back resignation. Supremely at ease, Skarsgard proves immune to the encroaching idiocy (this must have been good practice for Time Code); Fichtner affects an endearingly helpless deadpan as a morose, weaselly suit. But the star herself reverts to type, making up for her lack of instincts with steely focus and dogged exertion—the very reasons she was effective in G.I. Jane. The most galling aspect of the movie isn't its harebrained premise (a short story by Ken Kalfus turns an identical scenario into a gem of existential-metaphysical comedy) but its decision to free Demi from her plight with a flood of psychobabble. Intentionally or not, Passion of Mindat least parlays this climactic epiphany into its version of a money shot—a gloriously bonkers sequence in which Demi and her estranged demi-psyches finally kiss and make up.

"Demi, what happens if you take a nap?": Moore and Fichtner in Passion of Mind.
photo: Isabelle Weingarten
"Demi, what happens if you take a nap?": Moore and Fichtner in Passion of Mind.

Details

Passion of Mind
Directed by Alain Berliner
Written by Ron Bass and David Field
A Paramount Classics release
Opens May 26

8 1/2 Women
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway
A Lions Gate release
Opens May 26

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Speaking of losing one's mind, the deeply ridiculous 8 1/2 Women could have been made only by a cranky dotard. Peter Greenaway's new film is, needless to say, a compulsively referential work, pedantically obsessed with words, numbers, form, and high art. But it marks a minor departure in terms of visual style (intercutting the trademark fastidious wide-angle tableaux with uncharacteristic extreme close-ups) and tone—Greenaway's distinctive brand of cerebral, gross-out, body-horrific humor has never been so shrill or so unfunny. A British father and son (John Standing and Dave Foley look-alike Matthew Delamere) shuttle between Kyoto, where they own a chain of pachinko parlors, and Geneva, where they are converting the family estate into a private harem. The 8 1/2 concubines (the half woman, if you must know, is an amputee) include Toni Collette as a faux-nun and Amanda Plummer as a horseback-riding goth who ends up in an unflattering plastic neck brace. It's safe to say that Fellini, to whom this film pays dubious homage (the amputee is named Giulietta, presumably after Signora Fellini), would have abhorred any association with this dismal mortuary slab of a movie.

 
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