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Saturday, July 15, 2000

'TWIN FALLS IDAHO'

There's something about brothers


What is it about brothers that work as a filmmaking team? Movies like "Bound," "The Matrix," "Fargo" and "There's Something About Mary" -- to name just a few -- were all made by brothers. They show up for press conferences wearing similar T-shirts and say sweet, brotherly things like: "Uh, he's the thinker in the family, and I've always been the doer." Or they get immediately defensive and say: "Being brothers had nothing to do with the movie. We worked on it together, that's all." Then they exchange quick, private grins and look away. One imagines a mother visiting the set with the boys' favorite home-baked cookies, pride brimming in her eyes.

On the other hand, never before have we seen a sister-director team. Sister actresses are fairly common, but women just don't pair up to brandish megaphones and swap jokes with the sound-effects guy. What sisters do is share sandals, then complain about who stretched out whose. And one sister is always hogging the phone or hair dryer: two key items of sisterhood angst. OK, this isn't entirely true. But it feels that way, sometimes.

Enhancing this feeling of gender envy is "Twin Falls Idaho," made by twin brothers Michael and Mark Polish. The pair have had a fascination for twins (themselves and others) since childhood. This led them to research and collect material on Siamese twins, hoping one day to tell a story of two brothers joined together since birth, yet doomed to a double existence of alienation. Sharing limbs and organs as they do, most Siamese twins can't live to adulthood. "Twin Falls Idaho" is that tale of what happens to a pair that do.

Penny (Michele Hicks) is a call girl looking for a break, preferably in the modeling business. One day, she goes to a seedy hotel on Idaho Avenue for a job and comes face to face with Siamese twins Blake (Mark Polish) and Francis (Michael Polish) Falls. Shocked and embarrassed, she runs away but returns later to retrieve her bag. Then she sees that Francis is ill and Blake is awkwardly trying to attend to him. To "even up my karma," as she puts it, Penny steps in to help. After getting her doctor (Patrick Bauchau) to prescribe medication, she goes out for some food (potato chips and soda), installs herself next to the twins' double bed and makes conversation.

Pretty soon, it's clear that Blake is attracted to Penny and vice versa, but it's not like she's going to have any private moments with him. Francis realizes he's in the way, but he can't just pick up and go. There is also his relationship with Blake, at once tragic and erotic, tender and resentful. What they share is a perfect oneness ordinary couples cannot hope to achieve, yet it is this oneness that alienates them from the world and causes them so much pain. When hurt and frustration reaches peak levels, Blake lashes out at his brother: "I just want to get up from this bed and leave you, walk out the door and not look back!" He tries to match action to words, which sends them toppling to the floor.

As a cinematic menage a trois, Penny and the two brothers are in a class of their own, trapped in the irreality of a strange and beautiful dream. The Polish brothers took a risk in casting Hicks, an ex-supermodel with no acting experience. There is no way, with her million-dollar clothing collection and runway gait, that she could be an impoverished prostitute, but such trivialities wilt before her classic, statuesque beauty. Put her next to the princely twins and the three seem to have escaped from some Greek urn painting, an unearthly love affair presided over by the gods.

Though "Twin Falls Idaho" lends poetry to the otherwise tragic phenomenon of Siamese twins, it never attempts to gloss over the darkness. The Falls brothers yearn for ordinary things (visiting their mother, going to parties, eating out) and scheme to do all these on the "one day we can be normal," which is Halloween.

On this day, no one stops to stare in horror. In restaurants, waitresses come up and congratulate them with comments like: "That's some costume!" And thus temporarily accepted, they go and seek Mom (Leslie Ann Warren) whom they've never met because she gave them up at birth. The meeting is brief and wretchedly painful -- unable to look at her sons for long, Mom winds up slamming the door in their faces.

No doubt there will be more brothers/directors making movies together but few will have the neat symmetry of "Twin Falls Idaho" -- beautiful twin directors starring as twin brothers in a movie about beautiful twins. And it's a love story.

Am I jealous or what?

"Twin Falls Idaho" opens July 29 at Ginza Theater Cinema.


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