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MOVIE REVIEW : Witty Look at Longing in 'Desire'

July 02, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST LOS ANGELES — With his elegant and erotic "Chain of Desire" (at the Nuart), Caracas-born writer-director Temistocles Lopez has deftly transposed the structure of "La Ronde" and set it down in contemporary Manhattan. Those who've seen Max Ophuls' memorable 1950 film version of Arthur Schnitzler's 1897 play "Reigen" will recall that it is composed of a series of vignettes in which one lover moves on to the next who in turn moves on to another until the last lover connects with the first, thus completing a circle.

This ironic device allows Lopez to show how sexual longing and emotional craving in all their permutations reveal the loneliness and isolation that is endemic to modern urban life. A film of wit and compassion, "Chain of Desire" is a serious comedy, spiked with humor that is as hilarious as it is subtle. In only his second feature, Lopez hasn't Ophuls' flawless pacing but arguably his film possesses greater depth. It also possesses a flowing, graceful style, and cinematographer Nancy Schreiber brings a burnished, moody glow to his sleek, sensual images of Manhattan. More realistic than romantic, the film crosses racial, ethnic and sexual lines and socioeconomic levels.

Setting in motion Lopez's "chain of desire" is Linda Fiorentino's sultry singer, a current hit in the club scene but so unhappy in love she finds herself coming on to a husky Latino workman (Elias Koteas) in a church. Koteas' pretty wife (Angel Aviles) in turn is subjected to the kinky advances of her employer (Patrick Bauchau), who in turn is having an affair with the wife of a friend, and so on until we return to Fiorentino a dozen individuals later.

Virtually everyone involved makes an impression, no small accomplishment in a film with 14 principals and more than that number in supporting parts. Especially sharp and amusing is Grace Zabriskie, as a middle-aged woman whose lover proves to be as big a bore in bed as her husband (Malcolm McDowell), who's a closeted gay. Assumpta Serna is another standout as the beautiful but put-upon wife of a highly successful, shamelessly womanizing painter (Seymour Cassel). Lopez casts Dewey Weber as a handsome gay but instead of treating him as a stud shows him to be a reflective cabaret singer specializing in Brecht/Weill-like songs.

With "Chain of Desire" (Times-rated Mature for adult themes and situations), Lopez reminds us that taste and eroticism can be mutually beneficial rather than mutually contradictory. His major coup, however, is alluding to AIDS anxiety only in passing until a finish that reverberates through all that we have witnessed. "Chain of Desire" has more on its mind than sex.

'Chain of Desire'

Linda Fiorentino: Alma D'Angeli

Grace Zabriskie: Linda Bailey

Malcolm McDowell: Hubert Bailey

Seymour Cassel: Mel

Assumpta Serna: Cleo

A Mad Dog Pictures release. Writer-director Temistocles Lopez. Producer Brian Cox. Executive producer Anant Singh. Cinematographer Nancy Schreiber. Editor Suzanne Fenn. Costumes Pilar Limosner. Music Nathan Birnbaum. Production design Scott Chambliss. Art director Michael Shaw. Set decorator Judy Backer. Sound Joe Romano. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Times-rated Mature (for adult themes and situations).

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