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The Loss of Sexual Innocence (1999)
There really isnt much of a plot to The Loss
of Sexual Innocence, the new film by writer-director Mike Figgis. An English filmmaker
named Nic (Julian Sands) is trapped in a dead marriage. He goes to Africa to make a
documentary about the environment, and during the trip he begins an affair with an Italian
woman (Saffron Burrows). The affair ends badly, too.
basically the story. But Nic is a compulsive memorist who constantly relives scenes from
his childhood and adolescence. Not only do we share these glimpses into his past, we also
see Nics dreams and even his wifes dreams. These strands and yet
another strand springing from the deepest fount of Western culture are woven
together in abrupt, non-linear patterns.
All of the
narratives revolve around sex and our need for it, no matter how debased the form. Like Eraserhead,
Sexual Innocence attempts to translate the trappings and nuances of sexual feeling
into cinematic language. But where Eraserhead tried to evoke our deepest dread, Sexual
Innocence aims for a melancholic wonder by linking sexual feeling to carefully
measured images of decay, solitude, and helplessness.
These things alone
would make it a movie that seems to be begging for popular rejection. But The Loss
of Sexual Innocences biggest risk the thing thats sure to alienate
a lot of people who see it is an overly literal retelling of the story of Adam and
Eve. Shot in a yellowish haze, the intermittent segment features a stupendous looking
black Adam and white Eve (newcomers Femi Ogumbanjo and Hanne Klintoe). The sequence has
some startling touches, to be sure: in close-up we see Eves vagina as she urinates,
and the couple is expelled from Eden to the sound of Beethovens Ode to Joy.
modernizing touches aside, the problem with the Adam and Eve material is that it takes up
time that should have been used to explain why Nic is a fitting symbol for all mankind.
Figgis is trying to make a big statement about the human condition in Sexual Innocence,
but he hasnt bothered to complete his sentence. It would be interesting to know just
how much of his movie he actually believes. Does he really think that mankind has come
unstuck from Nature in some fundamental way? And what exactly does that phrase
"sexual innocence" mean to him anyway?
By their very
nature, projects like this one almost have to go wrong in critical ways. And Sexual
Innocence compensates at least partly for its strained allusiveness through fluid
editing and a handful of beautifully crafted performances. Julian Sands never gives off
the languorous vapors that a lot of actors would have brought to Nic hes
never a drag. Burrows gives such individuated detailing to both halves of a pair of twin
sisters that it seems like were watching two actresses at work. And Gina McKee, in
one of the flashback sequences, gives a glowing mini-performance in a single shot.
The Loss of Sexual Innocence
isnt for everyone. (It may only be for Mike Figgis.) The Religious Right wont
scream bloody murder about it only because theyll never hear of it, but even
hardcore cineastes may come away unhappy. Its a movie thats memorable more for
its game attitude than it is for its accomplishments.
- Tom Block