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MOVIE REVIEW : A Thin Psychological Drama on Incest

November 22, 1991|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The British film "Close My Eyes" (selected theaters) is about an incestuous brother-sister relationship, but it doesn't have the hearty force of a full-scale taboo-shatterer. Despite its several graphic sex scenes, the film's attitude is rather prim and decorous. It's all veddy British--the decencies may be overturned but never taste.

Natalie (Saskia Reeves) and her younger brother Richard (Clive Owen) hardly knew each other growing up; when their parents divorced they each moved in with different parents. The movie begins when Natalie, reeling from a broken love affair, is briefly reunited with the womanizing Richard; she responds to his sympathies with an indecorous kiss. In the course of a subsequent summer, by which time Natalie has married a well-off sport named Sinclair (Alan Rickman), they initiate a ravenous affair.

The affair itself is detailed with surprising delicacy; the push-pull of passion is given its due, even though the film, unlike its protagonists, never threatens to spin out of control. The tingle of the illicit fills the atmosphere of the ramshackle flat where they spin out their passion. (The R rating is for strong sensuality and language.)

As the film unwinds, however, the brother-sister folly doesn't accumulate horror, or excitement, or much of anything else. Writer-director Stephen Poliakoff takes a remarkably non-judgmental approach to his characters but he doesn't provide them with enough psychological levels. With material this incendiary, the lack of depth is particularly crippling; we try to read into Richard's enraged blankness and Natalie's moodiness more than their roles can support. Reeves, in particular, is a highly capable performer, but she can't make emotional sense out of Natalie's wayward allegiance to her brother. It's not clear why she turns on to Richard, or why she turns off.

Rickman is the best reason to see the film. (How often this sentence has appeared in movie reviews in the past years!) His Sinclair may at first seem like a narcissistic twit but Rickman has so much more life than anyone else in the movie that he gives the film a merry jolt whenever he appears. His love for Natalie undercuts his preening ways, and it's perfectly understandable that he would agonize over her indiscretions (even if he can't allow himself to recognize what that indiscretion might be.) Rickman makes Sinclair infinitely sympathetic even while he's being supremely, unconscionably forgiving. It's a small, miraculous feat.

'Close My Eyes'

Alan Rickman: Sinclair

Clive Owen: Richard

Saskia Reeves: Natalie

Karl Johnson: Colin

A Castle Hills presentation. Director Stephen Poliakoff. Producer Therese Pickard. Screenplay by Stephen Poliakoff. Cinematographer Witold Stok. Editor Michael Parkinson. Costumes Amy Roberts. Music Michael Gibbs. Production design Luciana Arrighi. Art director John Ralph. Set Decorator Robyn Hamilton-Doney. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (sensuality and language).

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