Suspension of Disbelief: Rome Review

13.11.2012,, Text: Deborah Young

Top Euro actors Sebastian Koch and Lotte Verbeek star in Mike Figgis' film noir tale.

Somewhere between a sophisticated erotic thriller and a homey British TV detective drama, with a bow to modernist deconstruction thrown in, Suspension of Disbelief is sure to completely satisfy no one. But on the basis of its light touch, intriguing shooting and mesmerizing leads, it still counts as one of the more successful personal works from uneven Brit filmmaker Mike Figgis. The tongue-in-cheek film noir tale about the death of a beautiful twin generates sparks between German star Sebastian Koch and bewitching Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek, though surprisingly little bed-time. This is one Figgis film where the promised hot sex scenes don't materialize. Gently witty, it should do modest but honest trade, particularly with college-age viewers, after its humble premiere in a Rome festival sidebar.

In the beginning, the director is careful to dose out just enough information to keep fact and fiction separate, which he does with humorous irony. But gradually the barrier starts to break down and things get complicated, though never so completely that characters and plot can’t be savoured to the final kiss. Figgis may not be Godard (lionized in classic film school posters along with actress Anna Karina), but at least he mentions him in a cheerful salute to film modernism.

Martin (Koch, The Lives of Others) is a successful screenwriter who electrifies a class of students with his pungent observations, like attempting to explain why audiences feel real emotion for characters they know are fictional. The theme of “fiction becomes fact” is introduced early on in a quote from Carl Jung and plays out in various ways throughout the film, starting with a highly-charged erotic phone call to a girl in bed that turns out to be just a scene in a movie, completely deflating audience expectations.

The young actress is Sarah Jones (Rebecca Night), Martin’s daughter. Her mother Claire (Emily Fox) was a famous actress who suddenly vanished one day after humiliating husband in a restaurant and throwing a glass of wine in his face. Fifteen years later, Martin is writing a brooding screenplay about the incident. The two scenes are a showcase for the quiet, self-deprecating humor that Koch plays so well.

At Sarah’s 25th birthday party, he’s attracted to Angelique (Verbeek), a sultry French temptress made up like Angeline Jolie; the next morning she’s found dead in a canal. Murder? The curmudgeonly inspector Bullock (a thoroughly enjoyable Kenneth Kranham) who drops round to ask Martin a few questions wonders if they spent the night together, but before he and the audience can get an answer, he gets comically side-tracked asking the writer to read a script he’s written.

At the morgue, Angelique’s assembled acquaintances do a double-take when a young woman with a suitcase appears who looks exactly like the drowned woman, though toned down by ten. It’s her twin sister Therese (Verbeek as a quiet, wide-eyed innocent.) She ends up a guest in Martin and Sarah’s deluxe home, waiting for the police to conclude their investigation, while sending out subtle sexual signals to both father and daughter. Like her award-winning role in the Dutch film Nothing Personal, Verbeek’s Therese seems more ethereal fairy than flesh and blood. Koch, concretely plausible without being banal, is a perfect foil for her mysterious ways.

This is not the first of the director’s films to withhold cinematography and editing credits, and it is not unlikely that Figgis – a well-known photographer – covered both bases. The images have a photographer’s imagination, a confident sense of isolating figures from the background and switching back and forth from black and white to color. On the eclectic soundtrack anything goes, with clever, upfront use of all types of music from Wagner to Radiohead.

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