Filmmaker Jay Anania is fearless before the pitfalls of the arty and the pretentious. When his "Long Time Since" starts grabbing attention and holding it like glue, it becomes clear that his highly stylized approach is paying off. A rigorously minimalist work, it befits a woman who lives a most austere existence.
When we meet Paulina Porizkova's Diane Thwaite, she surely is little more than 16. Driving alone at night on a country road on New Year's Eve 1972, just as "Auld Lang Syne" comes over the radio, her car hits something. Swerving to a stop, she gets out, and the next thing she knows she is awakened by a concerned passing trucker.
Now it's 1996, and Diane is a botanical illustrator with a starkly chic New York apartment. The severity of clothes sets off her regal blond beauty, and she pursues a highly circumscribed, ordered existence. She keeps the man in her life, Cyril (Jeff Webster), at a distance. She had forgotten the incident 24 years earlier, when a chance hearing of the very same version of "Auld Lang Syne" that played on the car radio so long ago triggers a series of increasingly ominous memory fragments.
Without giving away the plot, a key element in Diane's memory involves a baby girl. Diane's life is transformed as she begins her search for that fully grown woman and an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the infant's earlier fate. Diane is too quickly caught up in playing detective to bother with her job or Cyril. She has come alive, and she's on a quest, although ultimately it seems logical that she has really commenced a search for herself. In the meantime, Anania has cut away from Diane to an unidentified man (Julian Sands), who has striking blond looks similar to Diane's and who, intriguingly, seems to live as solitary and marginal an existence as she.
"Long Time Since" has the look of a film made by a photographer, for its shots are dramatically composed and cropped, and feature lots of close-ups. The film moves as gracefully as Porizkova but also as economically. Cinematographer Oliver Bokelberg's shots tend to be very tight; at no time do we see anything more than is absolutely necessary. There is not the slightest waste of time or space on the screen, and this rigor works very well as curiosity and suspense start to build.
By the same token, the film's few actors respond to Anania's relentlessly disciplined approach. Nothing really turns out as Diane hopes, but Porizkova shows us a woman flowering as radiantly as one of those plants she draws so exquisitely. Sands and Webster in support are just as impressive, as is Marianne Quinn as a waitress. Porizkova and Sands seem too young for their roles, but then the film seems as timeless as a fable.
Anania has determinedly told his story in images with a minimum of words, and the resulting tension pays off. The beauty of those images has a poetic quality, and "Long Time Since" is even able to sustain some spare and portentous music--piano solos, flute solos typical of moody, evocative Japanese art films, plus flourishes of exotic, tinkling Asian temple bells. It's hard to imagine Anania telling a story in quite this same studied way again, but here it works better than ever could be imagined in its early sequences that in fact do suggest something merely arty and pretentious in the offing.
Unrated. Times guidelines: complex style and adult themes.
'Long Time Since'
Paulina Porizkova ... Diane Thwaite
Julian Sands ... Michael James
Jeff Webster ... Cyril Troy
Julianne Nicholson ... Phoebe
A Creative Light Worldwide presentation of a Lucius Films and Bergman Lustig production. Writer-director Jay Anania. Executive producers Ram Bergman, Dana Lustig, Paul S. Colcher, Robert Colesberry. Producer Karen Arikian. Cinematographer Oliver Bokelberg. Vocals Judy Kuh. Production designers Laurie Friedman, Eve Schuffnecker. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd. (at Fairfax Avenue), L.A., (323) 655-4010.