Souvenir

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Souvenir

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Souvenir

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Sometimes it takes a sharply calibrated bullshit detector to note the subtle distinctions between fine art and pretentious twaddle, but Michael Shamberg's Souvenir sets off the buzzers from its opening frame. This is the sort of self-parodic art film in which a simple window is called "a barrier of transparency," incest becomes an obligatory plot point, and characters spend much of their time fussing over cigarettes, the leading cause of cinematic navel-gazing. A hypnotic meditation on memory, loss, and repressed family trauma, Souvenir resembles Atom Egoyan's excellent Speaking Parts, with an eerie computer kiosk standing in for Egoyan's virtual mortuary. Both directors are interested in exploring the alienation that comes with living in the Communication Age, but Shamberg is so distracted by meaningless avant-garde gestures that his observations never resonate on a human level. Perhaps by design, Stanton Miranda gives an impenetrable performance as an American sports journalist in Paris who ruminates on her broken family, haunted by memories of her sexually abusive father and an intimate relationship with her late brother. As she wanders the rainy streets, an offscreen dialogue takes place between her and her younger brother, voiced respectively by Christina Ricci and Adam Hann-Byrd, a canny pairing lifted from The Ice Storm. In order to make sense of the world around her, Miranda manipulates her experiences on a computer, which speaks to her in a strange, implacably foreign language. Though it features some evocative Paris cityscapes by photographer James Herbert, a Stan Brakhage prodigy who uses different camera stocks to fine effect, Shamberg has trouble fusing experimental techniques with narrative convention. Souvenir whiffs of distracting, arbitrary artiness, such as a pointless episode spliced together with jump cuts or a banal conversation in French and English that's shot with a swinging camera and spiked with intrusive shrieks of violin. Shamberg gets contributions from some impressive names, including a cameo by Kristin Scott Thomas and Tandy-esque computer graphics by Chris Marker (La Jetée), but his silly tone poem makes little use of their talents.

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