Appetites for Destruction


In his rave review of Thomas Harris’s long-awaited follow-up to The Silence of the Lambs, no less an authority than Stephen King hailed Dr. Hannibal Lecter as “the greatest fictional monster of our time.” Those psyched for Lecter’s celluloid return are advised to scale down their expectations.

The movie Hannibal is less monster than monstrosity—albeit, as superfluous sequels go, not on par with the memorably idiotic Godfather III. There’s no redemption here, just the quest for a paycheck. Two Hollywood studios and a raft of high-priced talent—including Ridley Scott, David Mamet, and Steven Zaillian, not to mention the city of Florence—bring the necessary gravitas to this undertaking. Expending most of his enthusiasm on the movie’s poster, Sir Anthony Hopkins has deigned to reinhabit his interpretation of the most dangerous man on the planet, but Jodie Foster, who gave what remains her adult career performance as FBI trainee Clarice Starling, declined in favor of the ever game Julianne Moore.

Moore has her baptism of fire 10 minutes into the movie when now FBI commando Clarice presides over a D.C. drug bust that is bungled into a Waco-like scandal. “I shot a mother holding her child,” she blubbers angrily through clenched teeth, reminding viewers of the various parental issues beneath the surface of Silence of the Lambs. Moore’s Clarice is heavily dependent on Foster’s earlier incarnation, but radiating impatience throughout, she projects little of the solitude or vulnerability Foster brought to the role. Moore’s Clarice is a proud loner—in this installment, her FBI patrons are replaced by a smirking superior named Krendler (Ray Liotta) who, for vague nefarious reasons, wants her not only discredited but set up.

As a movie, Silence of the Lambs derived much of its power from being a psycho-slasher story in reverse. Hannibal has no comparable ogre for Starling to slay, unless it’s the grotesque plutocrat Mason Verger—played by an unbilled Gary Oldman in makeup that suggests his hair plugs in The Contender were coated with flesh-eating parasites. Verger, it seems, once invited Lecter home for a bit of consensual s&m and, before he knew what was happening, found himself under the influence of amyl nitrite and complying with Lecter’s suggestion that he seize a shard of broken glass, peel off his face, and feed the flesh to the dogs. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Verger tells Clarice, wheezing from his respirator, in a doubly feeble one-liner.

Verger collects Lecter memorabilia (paying $250,000 for the famous hockey mask) and he has a notion to collect Lecter himself. Likewise, Clarice has begun receiving letters from her nightmare mentor, although it’s been a decade since she last saw him. Although on the wagon as far as eating people is concerned, Lecter is still fascinated by Clarice’s psychology—far more than she herself. The action then shifts to Italy, where an arrogant local cop (Giancarlo Giannini) is also after Lecter—albeit for the reward—chasing the old monster through an atmospheric succession of pillared arcades, musty libraries, and grand piazzas in an endless quest to secure a clean fingerprint. Even after the movie returns to Washington, Scott keeps the choral music flowing and the fog machine pumping, while encasing as many scenes in steel grating as he can.

Scott’s showy filmmaking is placed in the service of creating a myth, but for all the interest Hopkins shows in his demonic role, he might as well be one of Gladiator‘s digital effects. His face lit from below whenever possible, the star comes across as a sinister Truman Capote—portly and soigné, peeking coyly from beneath his trademark Panama hat. Able to slash a throat with a single desultory wave of his scalpel, Lecter more or less materializes at will—popping up at an open-air performance of Faust with the same insouciance that he strolls into Clarice’s bachelor-girl town house to watch her sleep.

Not nearly as sardonic as it means to be, Hannibal seems inanely pleased with itself. Comic highlights include the scene in which Clarice employs a team of hypersensitive human bloodhounds to sniff out Lecter’s whereabouts, and the wild-goose chase in which he leads her through Union Station, keeping in constant telecommunication all the while so he can continue his ongoing inquiry into her feelings about her parents. There’s also the moment when Verger lets loose a pack of carnivorous boars—hopefully to devour the ordinary bores who have long been cluttering up the screen.

Speaking of boors, critics have been enjoined not to reveal the shock ending. Suffice to say it involves a culinary gross-out that, were the movie not R-rated, would delight any third-grader who has yet to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

The Taste of Others, which sounds like it might be a subsequent installment of the Hannibal Lecter saga, is rather a droll situation comedy of male midlife crisis played out amid a clash of conflicting sensibilities. (The French title might have been more colloquially translated as Diff’rent Strokes.) That the movie—shown at last year’s New York Film Festival—was directed and cowritten by French actress Agnès Jaoui perhaps accounts for its tolerant take on clueless men and flighty divas.

The wealthy industrialist Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri, who is married to Jaoui and collaborated on the screenplay with her), saddled with a self-absorbed, interior-decorating wife—could Martha Stewart be the second greatest fictional monster of our time?—and two bodyguards, attends a pretentiously bad production of Racine’s Berenice and is smitten by Clara (Anne Alvaro), the dour, no longer young lead actress. What a difference a spotlight makes: She turns out to be the very same freelance English instructor he recently dismissed. The fun begins when, much to haughty Clara’s stricken disdain, the seemingly crass Castella begins insinuating himself into her provincial bohemian scene. Meanwhile, in a secondary complication, the studlier of Castella’s bodyguards takes up with the hash-dealing bartender (Jaoui herself) at the establishment that, conveniently located next door to Clara’s theater, everyone more or less frequents.

Castella shaves his mustache, commissions a mural for his factory, disputes his wife’s chintzy “candy shoppe” aesthetic, and uses his few words of English to compose a love poem; in his tireless attempt to adapt himself to Clara’s taste, the disconsolate tycoon is a sympathetic figure—if not as adorable as the movie insists. (Clara, on the other hand, remains doggedly po-faced.) Jaoui, directing her first feature, doesn’t sufficiently shake the oil and vinegar to make a zesty dressing. Still, The Taste of Others is a pleasant time-passer, far lighter in its conceits than the turgid comedies, Same Old Song and Smoking/No Smoking, Jaoui and Bacri have written for Alain Resnais.

A considerably more unsettling tale of one-sided amour fou, reportedly inspired by an actual case of teenage prostitution, Jean-Pierre Améris’s Bad Company puts the coy prurience of American high school films in brutal perspective—which is perhaps the reason the movie has suffered a number of brutally dismissive reviews.

The petite and sheltered Delphine, not yet 15, bonds with a new classmate—the older, more experienced Olivia, a dreadlocked, bangled giantess from a broken home. These Mutt and Jeff accomplices go out clubbing together and innocent Delphine falls as if shot for the seductive bad boy Laurent, who, no ordinary heartbreaker, eventually turns her out as an after-school fellatio machine so that he can raise money from his classmates to finance his Jamaican vacation. Neophyte actress Maude Forget gives an utterly convincing performance as the love-struck, exploited Delphine—although Robinson Stévenin fails to make explicit Laurent’s own emotional imbalance. (According to the piece that ran last month in The New York Times, the first actor Améris cast in the role quit the production because he found Laurent’s character too distasteful.)

Bad Company is not particularly graphic, but it is emotionally affecting. The image of determined Delphine shivering in the cold stall of a park public toilet has intimations of perverse sainthood. How could love so degrade a clean-cut girl from a “good family” living in the picture-postcard city of Grenoble? (Ask Jean Genet.) A sensitive director, Améris is good on puppy love and teen tumult, but his movie lacks a consistent point of view. Sordid as it is, Bad Company has neither the case-study verité nor the stylistic rigor that would elevate Delphine’s passion from pathos to martyrdom.