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Michèle (Guédiguian axiom Ariane Ascaride) works nights in the fish market to support an unemployed, alcoholic husband, their teenage junkie daughter, Fiona (Julie-Marie Parmentier), and Fiona's infant child. Fiona sells herself to maintain her habit, and desperate Michèle is likewise driven to the streets once she decides to become Fiona's connection, buying heroin from an enigmatic old boyfriend, Gérard (Gérard Meylan). Michèle's path intersects with that of the feckless dockworker-turned-cabbie Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin); added to the mix are a pretentious architect and his disillusioned wife, a music therapist who becomes involved with a sensitive ex-con. That the lover is African allows Guédiguian to sample Marseilles's simmering ethnic stew. Indeed, the movie is rife with all manner of racists, nationalists, and fascists.

Although an inordinately long 132 minutes, The Town Is Quiet fails to make its connections clear. The story meanders, stalls, and then unexpectedly comes together just as Michèle's world falls apart. The last-minute combination of Greek tragedy and Janis Joplin is so genuinely startling that, had the movie been shorted by a third, it might have turned everything around.


At once Goofy and poignant, frozen and shambolic: Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko
photo: Dale Robinette
At once Goofy and poignant, frozen and shambolic: Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko

Details

Donnie Darko
Written and directed by Richard Kelly
Newmarket
Opens October 26

The Town Is Quiet
Directed by Robert Guédiguian
Written by Guédiguian and Jean-Louis Milesi
New Yorker
Opens October 26

From Hell
Directed by the Hughes Brothers
Written by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias, from the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
Twentieth Century Fox

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Marseilles's depressed hooker strip—beneath the highway, across from a filling station—is Club Med compared to the Victorian London sleaze district in From Hell. Or maybe it's vice versa. From Hell is nothing if not a quaintly cobblestoned, gaslit theme park. Habitués of a big set dripping with atmosphere, whores colorfully known as "pinchpricks" or "bangbums" are shrouded in a dank miasma 'neath a flaming sky as they ply their threepenny trade—and are slaughtered, one by one, by Jack the Ripper.

Directed by the brothers Hughes from the well-regarded graphic novel-cum-conspiracy theory by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, From Hell scuttles between London's open-air charnel house, various mental hospitals and morgues, and the opium den frequented by psychic detective Johnny Depp. Self-medicating his secret sorrow, Depp chases his nightly pipe with an absinthe-laudanum cocktail, thus insuring that the movie will be enlivened by a regular supply of expressionist nightmares, more than a few revolving around Heather Graham's lovely Mary Kelly. (With her peaches-and-cream complexion and glorious mane of enhanced red hair, Graham is the prettiest whore in Whitechapel—she never seems to turn a trick but she's regularly upstaged by her bodice.)

From Hell presents itself as a sort of prequel to Se7en and Hannibal, and the Hughes brothers have cannily described it as a "ghetto film," thus linking this vision of women being brutalized, gutted, and lobotomized with the 'hood movies that made their reputation. Certainly their most accomplished film, From Hell traffics in violence more suggested than shown—there's even a dubiously comic bit that concerns a gaggle of puking morgue workers. The original graphic novel was better written than visualized; the opposite is true of the necessarily streamlined, at times almost rhapsodic, adaptation. Superbly shot around Prague and in the studio by Peter Deming (also responsible for Mulholland Drive), From Hell is even more stylish than gruesome—it has the lush decrepitude of an autumn compost heap or an old Hammer werewolf flick.


Click here to read Dennis Lim's profile ofDonnie Darko director Richard Kelly.

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