Guinevere (1999) writ & dir. Audrey Wells cine ? star Sarah Polley (Harper), Stephen Rea (Connie), Jean Smart (Debra Sloan, Harper's mother), Gina Gershon (Billie), Sandra Oh (Cindy), Carrie Preston (Patty), Tracy Letts (Zack)
they all wanna live in a loft
Anyone who has hung around the art scene has certainly encountered the incorrigible Lothario type like Connie Fitzpatrick, the expatriate Irish photo artist with the funky loft and a string of young chicks willing to peel with or without proper lighting and/or seduction music... although they get plenty of both in this film. Connie (Stephen Rea) is no Picasso or Steiglitz for that matter. He hustles weddings for coin, shoots in black 'n' white, talks rebel socialism with other artists in a local bar while chain-smoking and drinking cheap single malt Jamesons. Middle-aged, not much to look at, he plays his role as the tragically hip artist to perfection. Two steps from pedophilia, one from the grave, this mixture of Irish pathos and tits and ass naughtiness is too much for most young girls to resist. Besides, they all wanna live in a loft.
Harper (Sarah Polley) is typical of his "models" -- twenty years old, supposedly on her way to the Harvard Law School, she meets Connie when he is shooting her sister's wedding. Seduction is always the idealization of self. The wily Irish photographer includes a vanity shot of Harper in with the wedding prints, autographed with the dedication, "To Guinevere". Hey -- if it worked for a old hustler like Sir Lancelot, why not Connie?
His loft studio is in a garment factory. As Harper arrives, her predecessor leaves, a hysterical Asian-American girl called Cindy (Sandra Oh). It's a shocking introduction to the harem, but Harper naively accepts Connie's explanation that Cindy was merely an assistant. First eye-contact, conversation, touch, exhibitionism, penetration -- Connie is moving swiftly through the 5 stages of seduction.
"...the best mistake I ever made"
Connie tells Harper (a.k.a. Guinevere) that she has the soul of an artist, although there is absolutely no evidence of this at any time in the film... anymore than Connie himself is anything other than a gallery hack. The early stages of the romance is painful to watch -- slow, almost documentary, you feel like you're being forced to watch a couple of geeks make it as porno stars. Still, the honesty of this clearly autobiographical story keeps you watching... and you're eventually rewarded with several excellent scenes.
The best, maybe, is when Debra Sloan (Jean Smart) tracks down her daughter and her svengali in the loft. Her monologue to the man who is older than she is, to the man who is "fucking" her daughter, is excellent. Debra's demeanor is dangerously sexual, as if she is about to give Connie a lesson in bondage, replace her misguided daughter in the bed of the artist. Why isn't Connie with a woman like her? Because, Debra asserts, only a girl could view him with "awe". This is obviously Audrey Wells' way of asserting the psychological truth about male alcoholic weaklings who can only find strength in the arms of girls.
The absurdity of his position is made clear when he decides to drive to Los Angeles to try and drum up some gallery action, make some money. They stop for something to eat, and his fake front teeth break, a symbolism that foreshadows the end. The symbolisms continue: Harper removes the zoom lens from Connie's Nikon F 2 with the tenderness of a lover uncoupling for the last time, takes it to a pawn shop, gets money for a dentist. Repaired for the time being, they continue on to L.A. where Connie borrows some money from a former patron. They check into a cheap motel like two lepers on the run. It's an interesting scene -- the tired old man with a young girl in a lonely strip motel, neither with any mystery left to give. In Room 223 it's the death of a fantasy, but for Harper still "the best mistake I ever made" .
Advance four years. The quid pro quo of this "romantic" liaison reveals itself: Harper is now a gallery photographer, an artist with an act of her own. Apparently "twelve up the ass" worked for her.
The temptation in a film about a photographer would be to trip out on mannered photo effect. Wells avoids the obvious, saves the montage for the end when the harem regroups like a sorority clique in an Ivy League novel. The women who make up this group of art slaves are perfect examples of the female psychology as expressed by the young artist Geoffredo in Antonioni's L'Avventura: "Women want to display themselves."
Definitely not for everyone, even within its chick flick constituency. Rea and Polley carry off their roles with embarrassing slo mo documentary efficiency. Their dialogue is a bit inaudible at times, especially in the first twenty minutes of the action -- not necessarily a bad thing here, and not the fault of the actors. Place (San Francisco) and Time (the early eighties) isn't properly established for the viewer, which wouldn't matter except that it becomes significant later in the action.
Truthful without being sordid, romantic without being dumb.
© LR 3/2000
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