Natural Porn Killers

Wayne Wang's first foray into digital video offers two interpretations of its title. "The thing about computers is you're connected to everyone and everything—it's like you're the center of the world," observes Richard (Peter Sarsgaard), a rumpled, amiable dotcom wunderkind. But his crush, stripper Florence (Molly Parker), muses, "We are all born out of a woman's cunt—it's the center of the world." Keen to visit the cradle of civilization, Richard offers Florence (check those signifiers!) a handsome sum to be his private dancer for a weekend in Vegas, perhaps hoping that a little venture capitalism will reap him a girlfriend.

The Center of the Worldthereafter aspires to existential porn: surveillance-video image, stupefied actors, broken-limbed plotting, an overall air of grasping improvisation. Developed from a story whose collaborators include novelist Paul Auster and avant-garde filmmaker Miranda July, the movie is oddly squeamish, and not simply because of its mistress's prohibitions—Florence allows no penetration, no "talking about feelings," and (an all-American Pretty Woman touch) no kissing on the mouth. The camerawork is skittish and, more often than not, safely above the shoulders. When Florence asks Richard his ultimate fantasy, he whispers it inaudibly in her ear. And the narrative rears away from its only promising theme—how money distorts love—when Richard goes bonkers, a twist that's abrupt, implausible, and wholly temporary. Even a standard-issue menstrual mishap is faked and pre-arranged; the film is hysterical but inorganic, lacking blood, sweat, or tears. Wang doesn't pony up any cheap titillation, but he can't approximate rough-hewn quotidian fumbling either. Any adult video worth its salt should offer both.


Details

The Center of the World
Directed by Wayne Wang
Written by Ellen Benjamin Wong
Artisan
Opens April 20

The Girl
Directed by Sande Zeig
Written by Zeig and Monique Wittig
Artistic License
Opens April 20

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Neither can be found in The Girl, Sande Zeig's Eurotrash noir tracking a butch Parisian cutie, called The Painter, and her problematic infatuation with a mercurial cabaret sexpot, called The Girl. Endless, tongueless hotel-room make-out sessions alternate with The Painter's ruminative strolls along the Seine and jealous intervention by cackling nightclub thugs. Agathe de la Boulaye, as The Painter, gives off an appealing air of good-natured amusement, which is appropriate given her surroundings. Christopher Walken could walk in from the Saturday Night Live "Continental" skit and feel right at home.

 
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