Dir/scr:Martha Fiennes. UK-Fr. 2005. 138mins.
The second film by Martha Fiennes, sister of Ralph andJoseph, is a multi-linear choral drama that aims to tell contemporary Britainlike it is. But although there is some sophisticated writing here, and some enjoyableperformances from the mostly British ensemble cast, Fiennes' attempt to do akind of London Magnolia is over-ambitious and over-long.
Onlyin the central storyline - in which Damian Lewis plays a laddish lawyer from awealthy background and Kristin Scott-Thomas his neurotic wife - does the filmoccasionally touch the emotional complexity of directors like PT Anderson orDavid O Russell - both cited by Fiennes as influences. Elsewhere, especially inthe schmaltzy Penelope Cruz - Rhys Ifans subplot, cliche wins out overobservation.
Butwith its smart casting, snappy editing and topical issue-surfing, Chromophobia,which closed Cannes this year, may survive downbeat reviews to post reasonableUK results; its US and overseas prospects look more hazy.
Chromophobia opens amusingly with ashot of a kid watching a surgical breast augmentation video in a designermodernist house somewhere in London. Neatly, the scene establishes socialmilieu, mother's self-image problems, and the son's lack of parental supervision.
IfOrlando seems clearly unbalanced, his mother, Iona (Kristin Scott Thomas) isnormal only by Islington standards: she's a fashion victim with a shrink, apersonal trainer and an obsessive-compulsive approach to shopping and interiordesign. Husband Marcus Aylesbury (Damian Lewis, in one of the film's stand-outperformances) is an upper-class lad, a lawyer who is caught uncomfortablybetween a slumming Essex twang and the plummy vowels of his Law Lord father(Ian Hart), between stag hunting and the college rock band he once played inwith investigative journo Trent (Ben Chaplin).
Otherplot strands involve Iona's brother Stephen (Ralph Fiennes), a gay art valuer,and Spanish prostitute Gloria (Penelope Cruz), who lives in a seedy basementflat with a young daughter, and whose Traviata-like wasting disease isministered to by social worker Colin (Rhys Ifans, giving us a more saintly takeon the stalker he played in Enduring Love).
Writer-directorFiennes is good on the contradictions of London life and the nuances of theBritish class system: how little enclaves of Notting Hill can exist in thedepths of the East End (like the listed building Ralph Fiennes' fastidiousaesthete inhabits); or how a presumably bright lawyer from a privilegedbackground deliberately dumbs himself down until he resembles an office clerkmade good; or the coded way in which the upper classes avoid the expression ofemotion.
Whenit comes to portraying the have-nots, on the other hand - a group of East Endschoolboys, or Cruz' feisty hooker - the film veers between class stereotypeand neo-Dickensian schmaltz. And some of the symbolism is laid on with atrowel: the cracks in the class system cause a piece of cornice to crash ontothe lawn of Edward Aylesbury's country estate; Trent's betrayal of his friendfor the sake of a juicy story is played off against his "first blood" killingof a stag.
Thereis a brash confidence to the whole exercise though, that is unusual in Britishcinema. This is reflected in its production status: Chromophobia wasfinanced not through the usual institutional channels but by Tunisian producerTarak Ben Ammar, a long-time Berlusconi associate whose appointment to theboard of Weinstein Co was announced during Cannes, and by American-in-LondonRon Rotholz. It comes through in the look of the thing, too - colourful andfast-cut, with production design that borders on lifestyle parody.
It'sjust a shame that the verve and structural complexity of the thing is notmatched by its moral depth. Chromophobia's final message appears to bethat although the British upper-classes are mixed up, they will always comethough in the end to save family values. Somebody should tell Martha that tomake edgy independent cinema, it helps to have an edgy independent world view.
Tarak Ben Ammar
Kristin Scott Thomas