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Saturday, April 29, 2000


A kiss from the other side

About 10 years ago in Paris, a staff member of a morgue engaged in a little necrophiliac perversion with the corpse of a young woman. The shock of it jolted her back to life and the staff member was exposed. The woman, however, never pressed charges.

This incident intrigued filmmaker Didier le Pecheur, and the result is "J'Aimerais Pas Crever Un Dimanche (I Wouldn't Like to Die on a Sunday)," a pic obsessed with death, sex and sadness, things the French do best (or so a French friend tells me).

Personally though, "J'Aimerais" came off as the French answer to "Fight Club," minus the broken noses and explosions, but triple the dose of ennui and despair. Instead of a verbose Edward Norton airing his boredom about coffee tables and office work, le Pecheur gives us Ben (Jean-Marc Barr), whose boredom is apparently so acute it's gone past airing.

Ben works in a Parisian morgue and has seen so much of death (and by implication, life) that he has lost the ability to be affected by anything. His coworkers are more or less the same and they are united in a collective thirst for stimulus. The yearning takes them on the prowl to the more dangerous sex shops of Paris, where the wares on sale are humiliation, pain and a jumbo AIDS risk factor. Still, Ben feels nothing.

Then one day at work he's confronted with the corpse of Teresa ( Elodie Bouchez) and is moved by her utter immobility. After cataloging her death and filing her away, Ben tiptoes to the refrigerator drawers where she is stored and takes off his clothes. Minutes later, he's having his first genuine shock experience in many years: Teresa has risen from the dead. What's more, she has no intention of getting him nabbed and is actually interested in a relationship.

Ben is at first disgusted and then indifferent. He ignores her and she quite correctly asks: "Don't you like me when I'm alive?"

Ben doesn't have an answer for that but he does let her tag along on his excursions to sadist sex bars and a country cottage where his friend Nico (Jean-Michel Fe^te) is dying of AIDS. Teresa is unperturbed and in her turn tries to illicit some emotional response from Ben other than silent cynicism. But it's like clawing at a thick steel wall. She even sleeps with Ben's friend on Ben's sofa, while he trains a camcorder lens on the scene, but no, it doesn't work.

For Teresa, her life-after-death experience is an unexpected and precious gift. In one scene, she tells Ben with wide, serious eyes that whatever has happened, she wants "to live." She has tasted the nothingness of death and it holds no attraction. Ben, on the other hand, hankers for the sensation of death which is for him the one remaining mystery. He has examined death, worked with death and flirted with it but the actual event still eludes him. The contemplation of suicide brings on a queasy rush. Teresa senses this and is determined to rope him back, over to her side.

Barr plays Ben with a kind of frightening precision, combining elegant indifference with chilly handsomeness and sporting a gaze that observes the world without taking any of it in. All this recalls his role in "Le Grand Bleu" which also depicted him as a man obsessed with a private dream, deaf to the entreaties of the woman who loves him.

Throughout "Grand Bleu" he had been marvelously absent and he repeats this disappearing act in "J'Aimerais," in spite of the lens constantly riveting itself on his facial expressions. At times he seems to open up and connect (in the presence of Nico, for example), but more often he simply turns himself off and it's as though he's closed the shutters on his face and gone for a long walk. It's uncanny how he does it. Either this is part of Barr's natural character or the man possesses a rare ability.

Bouchez maintains an uneasy chemistry with Barr without setting off any fireworks, which is pretty remarkable considering that her name is probably listed under the French word for fireworks. But the more she struggles to bring some warmth into Ben's life, the farther he retreats. Le Pecheur has made one cold film, icy to the touch and submerged in hues of blue and black. Bring a sweater and a long, hot drink.

"J'Aimerais Pas Crever Un Dimanche" opens today at the Haiyu-za Talkie Night Theater in Roppongi. Call the theater for details at (03) 3401-4073.

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