Friday, August 13, 1999

Worth the wallow

Movie: Twice Upon a Yesterday

Posted on Fri, Aug 13, 1999 at 4:00 AM

***
Our Rating: 3.00

In "Twice Upon a Yesterday," the flip side of love is regret, that incessant pining for what might have been. Victor Bukowski (Douglas Henshall), a self-absorbed, struggling London actor, can't accept the knowledge that his former girlfriend, Sylvia (Lena Headey), is marrying another man. Dave (Mark Strong), a compassionate and socially conscious environmentalist, is in many ways a better match for Sylvia, who's a psychologist. But all Victor can do is dream an impossible dream: to relive the pivotal moment when he lost her.

Ironically, Victor doesn't see the none-too-discreet affair he was conducting with an actress to have been the problem. His mistake, he reckons, was telling Sylvia the truth. Though she had grown suspicious, she was still willing to hear his well-rehearsed excuses. But envisioning a bright future with a new woman, Victor decided to come clean.

Eight months later, he's a wreck. The new relationship has fizzled fast and he's spending his time in pubs, seeking out the sympathetic ear of female bartenders. On one particularly rainy night, he drunkenly stumbles off for home, only to fall into a trash container. In his altered state, he doesn't quite know what to make of the sanitation workers (Eusebio Lázaro and Gustavo Salmerón) who find him. An odd pair reminiscent of Cervantes' Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, they lead him to an oddly mystical site: the massive trash dump where they've salvaged the most precious objects people have thrown away.

The duo magically grants Victor the ability to go back in time and alter his fate. At first euphoric over his second chance, he becomes baffled when his supposedly happy ending is fraught with unexpected complications, including the appearance of Dave -- who Sylvia is still strongly attracted to -- and his own quixotic involvement with Louise (Penélope Cruz), a Spanish-born bartender and would-be novelist who inadvertently reveals that there's a literary precedent for his predicament.

Like Cruz's character, director Maria Ripoll and screenwriter Rafa Russo are Spaniards working in England, and they bring a playful, dreamlike quality to the film while seriously ruminating on the idea that individuals can determine -- but not fully control -- their futures.

"Twice Upon a Yesterday" ends enticingly: By folding back on itself, the film creates a kind of romantic Möbius strip where love is the state of eternal possibility.

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