Loss of Sexual Innocence

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Mike Figgis

REVIEWED: 08-30-99

Pity the poor reviewer who exhausts his breath exhorting his fellow moviegoers to take a chance on foreign or independent films--only to have them take his advice and check out The Loss of Sexual Innocence. In art-movie terms, this hodgepodge of pretty pictures and laughable symbolism is pretty much an extinction-level event: It's the kind of stinker that steers unwary viewers clear of arthouses for life.

Which is unfair for many reasons--not the least of which is that The Loss of Sexual Innocence can get megaplex bookings because it's hooked up with a name distributor, Sony Classics, while better movies drift around unnoticed like lost planes without a runway. And it's clear that the only reason a name distributor picked this up is because it came from a name director, Mike Figgis; had a couple of mid-level stars, Julian Sands and Saffron Burrows; and had enough nudity to make it marginally sellable. Even as pretentious as the title is--it reeks of nickel-beer night at a poetry slam--it'll at least prick up your ears on MovieFone. But that's what makes the whole thing so frustrating: seeing art-movie distribution governed by the same decrepit considerations that clog the megaplexes.

The Loss of Sexual Innocence seems meant as an emptying of writer-director Figgis' notebook, a grab-bag of story fragments, images, and dream sequences presented as the jumbled thoughts and memories of a British filmmaker (Sands). That the movie starts off without a plot is its most striking feature--the mood of languid disconnection and erotic anticipation is initially tantalizing, and Benoit Delhomme's sepia-toned camerawork is impressive. However, after a series of self-contained tidbits that are less notebook entries than wastebasket scraps, the movie eventually whittles down to parallel (awful) storylines: Sands' venture into unspoiled Africa with a film crew, and Adam and Eve's movement through paradise toward original sin.

Did I mention the twins separated by nuns? The dream sequence in which Sands' wife finishes the ironing in one room and commences stripping onstage to a jazz combo in the next? The Nazis with snarling dogs who chase Adam and Eve into the arms of paparazzi beneath a giant neon cross? Each squiggle is so vapid and sophomoric in itself that you don't care about finding connections between them--the opposite effect of a difficult, deliberately mystifying work like Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique (a likely influence), whose patterns and themes resonate more each time you watch it. By contrast, Figgis' ideas tend to boil down to fortune-cookie stuffers like "nature good, man evil."

Figgis made one great movie, Leaving Las Vegas, amidst an all-but-unbroken string of windy misfires, and one suspects its source material kept the writer-director on track for once. Ironically, the success of that focused, controlled film got him the clout and the genius's mantle to make something this awkwardly self-indulgent--for all its posturing, it looks and sounds like the gauzy thesis of a trust-fund dilettante. Unlike a lot of better art movies you won't get to see, though, at least it's playing in local theaters--which probably has a lot to do with its title. If smaller distributors learn to play this game, steel yourself for Grand Sexual Illusion, The Third Sexual Man, or Taste of Sexual Cherry.

--Jim Ridley

Full Length Reviews
Loss of Sexual Innocence

Capsule Reviews
Loss of Sexual Innocence

Other Films by Mike Figgis
Leaving Las Vegas
One Night Stand

Film Vault Suggested Links
Let's Talk about Sex
Class Action
With or Without You

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