Apartment Zero

Lawrence Russell

Apartment Zero (1988) dir. Martin Donovan writ. Donovan and David Epp cine. Miguel Rodriguez star. Colin Firth (Adrian LeDuc), Hart Bochner (Jack Carney), Dora Bryan, Liz Smith, Fabrizio Bentivoglio

The brilliance of this film is marred by its silly ending where you are forced to endure yet another struggle for a gun under less than convincing circumstances. But make no mistake -- this is a serious piece of work which deals with the horror of the death squads in Argentina after the Malvinas/Falkland Islands war.

Apartment ZeroAdrian LeDuc is an Anglophile living in Buenos Aires where he runs a small movie theatre called Cine York, playing Hollywood classics to such small audiences that he's unable to pay his ticket girl. To draw extra cash, he decides to sub-let a room in his comfortable apartment, aptly numbered "Zero" in a building that hosts two old English women, a transsexual nightclub singer, a bi-sexual loser, and a lonely young "grass widow" whose husband is always leaving. When Jack Carney, a handsome young American who says he's working for a computer company as part of an exchange shows up, it's love at first sight -- Jack is a dead ringer for Richard Gere.

Already the symbolisms within the situation are revealing themselves. Adrian's mother is insane and in decline -- not unlike Argentina perhaps -- and he meets his saviour as an exteriorization of the American movies he admires. His own sanity in fact is questionable -- he pretends to be English, shuns his neighbors, moves at night, is only truly secure within the fantasy of his theatre, Cine York. Then, of course, there is the question of the troubling series of murders plaguing Buenos Aires. A serial killer appears to be at work, although the deaths are probably political, part of the right-wing agenda.

Much to Adrian's chagrin, Jack's charisma draws him into relationships with the other tenants in the building. He saves the English women's cat. He consoles and protects the transsexual after she's humiliated by a man in a movie house. He consoles Carlos after he fails with a woman. He consoles the young wife after her husband leaves once again. He's like a sexual Christ, a saviour for the lonely, an ambassador for the American solution.

Jack: You confess your sins to a stranger because he will absolve you.

Laura: Yes, yes... my father was the perfect stranger...

Jack: And what does my little girl need?

Victima Numero 14

So while Jack appears to be a lover, it develops that he's also a killer -- a mercenary hired by the army to take care of undesirables. His unmasking is slow, as if Adrian is in denial. Jack gives Adrian a silver cross for his mother. Adrian is suspicious, jealous:

Adrian: If that's a mask, take it off now or keep it on forever.

Jack: (smiling) What do you want to know?

Adrian: Who are you?

Jack: Whoever you want me to be...

Adrian knows Jack doesn't work at Intercom, but it's when Claudia, his ticket girl, persuades him to allow her group to use his theatre to screen some death squad documentaries, that Jack is revealed as a killer mercenary. Adrian recognizes him in the black and white footage, although Claudia is uncertain. Later she visits Apartment Zero looking for Adrian, finds Jack alone, becomes Victima Numero 14. When Adrian comes home and finds Jack with Claudia's body, he does the only thing a man in love can do -- help his friend dispose of the body.

Adrian has just buried his mother in a stone tomb. So he's susceptible to complete madness himself -- and indeed this is where he goes. By the end of the film you see him emerging from Cine York wearing a black leather jacket and shades, having absorbed his doppelganger, the movie star of his dreams.

"He was some kind of man..."

Ambitious, the sub-text often threatens to overwhelm the story. It's the mating of two different kinds of lunacy. In a film with so many metaphors, you wonder if Adrian's movie obsession is developed to its full potential. Jack tries to use Adrian's identity to escape but he becomes the first victim in a new cycle. What does it all mean? At the start, Cine York is showing Welles' Touch of Evil... another story about an ugly American.

© LR '89


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