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Friday, July 24, 1998

Slacker film withthout pretension

Movie: High Art

Posted on Fri, Jul 24, 1998 at 4:00 AM

****
Our Rating: 4.00

There's nothing quite so refreshing as a slacker film with production values fitted to its bent aesthetic: Naturalistic dialogue, loose cinema-vérité staging and a lingering hand-held camera go a long way in chronicling pot heads. Writer-director Lisa Cholodenko delves incisively into the art world's dark drug scene and other altered states of being with her debut feature, "High Art."

Back from relative obscurity, actress Ally Sheedy is Lucy Berliner, a once-renowned photographer living on the skids of her own marginal existence. Syd (Radha Mitchell), a doll who actually resembles Brigitte Bardot in the film's promotional photos, is an intern at the photography magazine Frame. One placid evening, Syd ventures up a floor in her apartment to investigate a ceiling drip and discovers that Lucy is her upstairs neighbor.

In Lucy's bathroom, Syd gets a look at the artist's recent works and is knocked out by them. Cholodenko tends to pen pseudo-intellectual sounding lines for her characters, but her basic narrative is quite sound. As Syd becomes intrigued with the enigmatic Lucy, a question arises: Is she pursuing the older woman out of natural attraction or because Lucy can help advance her career?

There are numerous enchanting details to Cholodenko's work of kitchen-sink art, more than enough to charm: from the presence of the well-aged Sheedy in the pic's macabre heroin sequences and the provocative nature of its erotic scenes, to the unbilled use of that queen of women, Sarita Choudhury, in Lucy's den of iniquity. Some interesting points arise in the film's text regarding identity, but chiefly Lucy's chosen path is the most curious.

In an engaging turn, Cholodenko creates a sort of artistic martyrdom for her anti-heroine, not one of victimhood as in the instant classic "I Shot Andy Warhol," but a near-passing for the cause of art. Without falling too deeply into pretension, Cholodenko captures the blissful spirit of self-imposed namelessness.

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