Plucking its sleek modernism and existential ennui from Michelangelo Antonioni, its random oddities from David Lynch, and its precious tale of cosmic coincidence from Krzysztof Kieslowski, Denis Villeneuve's Maelström doesn't just belong in an arthouse, but suggests an "arthouse" genre as formulaic as a Western or a heist picture. For a movie about identity to have no identity of its own leaves the story doubly adrift, lost amid moody dark-blue imagery, a vacuous lead character, and obscure symbolism, such as the bloody talking fishes that narrate from the chopping block of a half-naked Viking. Maelström may have the appearance of high art—it swept Canada's 2000 Genie Awards, winning for Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actress—but it lacks the weight of the real thing, to say nothing of the originality. Villeneuve exhausts his heaviest effects in the first half, which opens with the heroine, a 25-year-old fashion-store heiress played by Marie-Josée Croze, getting an abortion while "Good Morning, Starshine" cheers ironically on the soundtrack. Croze takes the first of several vigorous showers to cleanse herself, but her pangs of guilt, coupled with her failing business ventures and a general sense of spiritual emptiness, prompt an all-night bender at a trendy nightclub. Her problems are compounded on the drive home, when she's involved in a hit-and-run that winds up killing an aging fishmonger. By sheer Kieslowskian coincidence, the stale octopus Croze eats for lunch is only a few degrees of separation from the victim's son (Jean-Nicolas Verreault), whom she befriends in a desperate stab at redemption. Though it begins on a contrivance, and then turns on an even bigger contrivance, their relationship is the most resonant aspect of Maelström, because it dispenses with the faux-artiness and deals with graspable human emotion. If Villeneuve weren't so preoccupied with high-minded effects, particularly in the turgid first half, he might have accessed Croze's anguish more directly and profoundly, instead of casting her off into stylistic vagaries. Though redeemed in part by arresting photography and a daring (if unsuccessful) tragicomic tone, whenever Maelström cuts away to talking fishes or floods the soundtrack with bombastic Scandinavian opera, it evades the themes it's attempting to illuminate.