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'Halfmoon' Unfolds a Trio of Hypnotic, Exotic Tales


Frieder Schlaich and Irene von Alberti's moody, gorgeous-looking "Halfmoon" is composed of three Paul Bowles short stories introduced by Bowles himself and dealing with the themes of temptation and revenge. They emerge as graceful, insightful vignettes set in beguiling exotic locales that add up to an exquisitely wrought, sophisticated diversion.

The first episode--narrated by Bowles, a longtime Tangiers resident--is called "Merkala Beach" and tells of the staunch friendship between two young Moroccan laborers, Lachen (Samir Guesmi) and Idr (Khaled Ksouri). One day Lachen encounters a veiled young woman (Sondos Belhassen), and much to his surprise, she actually agrees to meet him the next day, and they instantly begin a passionate affair. But when it occurs to Lachen that, if she went with him, how many others she may be seeing as well, he can't get this thought out of his mind.

Of the second story, "Call at Corazon," Bowles, who suggests that all three stories may be true, slyly says that what takes place "might have happened to me had I been married at the time." Indeed, this segment plays like an outtake from "The Sheltering Sky," and surely its unnamed honeymooning couple (Sam Cox and Veronica Quilligan) are meant to be taken as Bowles and his late wife, Jane. (Quilligan is a dead ringer in appearance for the talented, tormented Jane Bowles.) In any event, the couple are edgy right from the start, and their situation is hardly helped when they transfer from a luxury liner to a primitive cargo boat for a voyage up the Amazon. Very soon they commence a game of revenge.

Each story is more substantial and distinctive than the last, and "Halfmoon" concludes on its strongest note with an especially well-told tale of the supernatural, "Allal." In a Moroccan village an old man (Mohammed Belfquih) causes consternation when his two snakes escape from the rickety crate in which he's carrying them, but Allal (Said Zakir), a self-assured youth who lives alone and works as an adobe brick maker, is immediately intrigued and offers hospitality to the wayfarer. But Allal can't resist stealing one of the snakes for himself.

These well-acted tales aren't profound, nor are they meant to be, but it's hard to imagine that they could be better, more satisfyingly told. Crucial to establishing their hypnotic mood are Volker Tittel's fluid, expressive camera work and Roman Bunka's seductive score. Setting a tone of ambiguity for the entire film is the 85-year-old Bowles himself, consummate storyteller that he is.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: The film has adult themes suitable for mature older children.



Paul Bowles: Narrator

Samir Guesmi: Lachen

Sam Cox: Husband

Veronica Quilligan: Wife

Said Zakir: Allal

A First Run Features release produced by Irene von Alberti & Frieder Schlaich for Filmgalerie 451 in association with Filmforderung Baden-Wurttemberg, Hamburger Filmburo and Filmburo NW. Writers-directors Von Alberti & Schlaich. Based on the writings of Paul Bowles. Cinematographer Volker Tittel. Editors Magdolna Rokop & Margaret Rose. Costumes Anne Schlaich. Music Roman Bunka. Art director Harald Turzer. In English and Arabic, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

* Exclusively through Wednesday at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.

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