Sunday, May 04, 2003

The Dancer Upstairs (IMDB) (Netflix)
In an un-named Latin American country, a series of terrorism incidents takes over the life of Javier Bardem, a detective and former disenchanted lawyer with no small amount of ambivalence toward the current government. He befriends his daughter's ballet teacher (Laura Morante) while searching for the mysterious "Ezequiel," hoping to beat the more thuggish Army to the collar (that Posse Comitatus Act is looking better all the time). It's the directorial debut of John Malkovich, a former Chicagoan, Steppenwolf Theater cast member and—according to his recent press tour—budding men's fashion designer.

Creative endeavors mirror their creators, of course, and even though it's based on a Nicholas Shakespeare novel and screenplay and he doesn't appear in the movie, this film is Malkovich—languid, quietly stubborn and oddly detached. Nothing is rushed and little is explained, requiring a patient (possibly sedated) audience but offering terrific photography and a chance to watch two of the most interesting faces in film, Bardem and Morante, carry much of the narrative freight. The overall mood is sensual without being particularly erotic, and for a character-driven political quasi-thriller, it's not all that suspenseful, leaving one satisfied but not quite sated.