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Movie Review

Stylish 'Shattered Image' Plays a Mysterious Guessing Game

December 04, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Shattered Image" is yet another of Raul Ruiz's endlessly convoluted psychological mysteries, not as richly bravura and daring as his recent "Genealogies of a Crime" but more romantic. It stars a perfectly teamed Anne Parillaud and William Baldwin, and it is a film of shimmering elegance that works smashingly well on an almost surreal visual level. It marks an assured English-language debut for Ruiz, a Chilean emigre, long based in Paris and now a French citizen.

Written adroitly by Duane Pool, "Shattered Image" has one of those stories about which it is all but impossible to say anything with any degree of certainty. It does seem clear that Parillaud's Jessie and Baldwin's Brian are an exceptionally attractive Seattle couple honeymooning at a posh Jamaican resort and that Jessie is deeply disturbed. She apparently has endured a rape and its trauma has been compounded by the death of her wealthy father. She has vivid dreams in which she sees herself as an ultra-cool hired assassin--and her latest assignment is to knock off none other than Brian or a man who is his twin. As for Brian, is he the solicitous husband he seems to be? Or is it the cold-blooded assassin who is real, and Jessie but a figment of her dreams?

Ruiz piles on such questions to such dizzying heights that his picture begins to boggle the mind, like looking too long at a labyrinthine M.C. Escher drawing. It's best to let the film simply wash over you because trying to sort everything out invites a certain tedium. However, it's worth going along with Ruiz because his payoff is so stunning that you realize that as usual he's carefully building toward it every step of the way. Ruiz verges on pure cinema, relying on the camera rather than dialogue to reveal character, tell the story and express his preoccupation with the duality of human nature.

"Shattered Image" is the kind of stylish guessing game in which actors sometimes don't get the credit they deserve in helping make it work. Parillaud, who can always seem a darkly beautiful enigma, deftly moves between the unstable Jessie and the vision of herself in her dreams, a lethal dame as cold-blooded as the actress' memorable "La Femme Nikita." Baldwin similarly changes personalities with equal effortlessness. Among the supporting players is Bulle Ogier as Jessie's chic, trusting mother.

This Seven Arts production is beautifully designed and scored, and has the glow typical of the work of its master cinematographer Robby Muller. "Shattered Image," despite Baldwin's presence and its suspense genre, is no mainstream movie but an art film that demands of the audience not only to make connections for itself but to do so with what it sees rather than what it hears.

* MPAA-rated: R, for sexuality and violence. Times guidelines: Both the sex and violence are moderate, but the picture is too confusing for children.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

'Shattered Image'

Anne Parillaud: Jessie Markham

William Baldwin: Brian

Lisanne Falk: Paula/Laura

Graham Greene: Conrad/Mike

Bulle Ogier: Mrs. Markham

A Lions Gate Releasing presentation of a Seven Arts Picture/Peter Hoffman production. Director Raul Ruiz. Producers Barbet Schroder, Susan Hoffman, Lloyd Silverman. Screenplay by Duane Pool. Cinematographer Robby Muller. Editor Michael Duthie. Costumes Francine LeCoultre. Production designer Robert De Vico. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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