Hotel

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Hotel

Cast:

Catching the first wave of the digital-video revolution, Mike Figgis' 2000 experimental feature Time Code was a film of its day, an amusing real-time stunt that divided the screen into four "quadrants" of simultaneous action. Figgis' technique was more or less an end in itself, almost incidentally serving a disposable story about the behind-the-scenes intrigue at a production company, with improvised performances by a cast that seemed primarily concerned with hitting its marks. A brisk and agreeable one-off, Time Code was the filmic equivalent to a novelty song, with Figgis acting as a DJ directing viewers' attention to one quadrant or another, leaving the actors in other quadrants to lounge in the sort of mundane actions that never get run through a projector. If Time Code was the novelty single, Figgis' unfortunate follow-up Hotel is the full album, coming soon to a cutout bin near you. Much like Peter Greenaway, whose work has been cluttered with baffling "paintbox" imagery since Prospero's Books, Figgis portends a visual-storytelling revolution, which owes as much to his jazz-musician experience (he records his own scores) as it does to his filmmaking career. To that end, Hotel offers a dazzling array of gizmos and tricks: quadrants, split-screens, multiple aspect ratios, "night vision" cameras, distorted "whip pans," and other DV effects available at the touch of a button. But even more than Time Code, Hotel puts events onscreen that are confused and inconsequential, in an ill-timed collision of disparate story threads and an unwieldy ensemble that doesn't seem to know what it's improvising. Once again concerning himself with the problems of phony, back-stabbing Hollywood types, Figgis descends on an eerie Art Deco hotel in Venice, where a cast and crew have gathered for a Dogma-style adaptation of John Webster's The Duchess Of Malfi. Appropriately, a power struggle ensues between tyrannical director Rhys Ifans and producer David Schwimmer, leading to an assassination attempt that leaves Ifans in a coma. As Schwimmer takes over directing duties, he also makes a play for Ifans' girlfriend, lead actress Saffron Burrows, and drives the flailing production team close to mutiny. Yet his scheming is mild in comparison to the sinister goings-on at the hotel, where members of the staff (including Julian Sands and Chiara Mastroianni) regularly abduct guests for kinky, macabre purposes. Burt Reynolds, Lucy Liu, and John Malkovich show up for cameos, but the joke's on them: Little do they realize they're appearing in self-parody, not parody. Shelved without a distributor for nearly two years after its debut at the 2001 Toronto Film Festival, Hotel already seems dated, a relic of technology that's still in rapid development. Until he finds a style to better communicate ideas or emotions, Figgis' plans to reinvent cinema will have to go back to the drawing board.

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