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Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The French like their lovers footloose and . . . forgetful


Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Director: Jean-Pierre Limosin
Running time: 98 minutes
Language: French
Opens June 14

Moliere observed that boredom is the natural condition of the French, and the frequent love affair their means to escape it. He would certainly have gotten a kick out of "Novo," the story of a Frenchman who never gets bored with a woman, no matter how often they meet and make love. Directed by Jean-Pierre Limosin ("Tokyo Eyes"), "Novo" tells the story of a "new man," whose life is renewed every 10 minutes -- the length of time for which he can sustain his memory.

News photo
Anna Mouglalis in "Novo"

Men with memory disorders are familiar cinema figures, "The Man Without a Past" and "Memento" being recent examples. "Novo" however, has a distinct tone. It views memory loss through the lens of sexuality and observes, from a woman's point of view, how a man who can't remember the intimacy shared only 10 minutes ago (and is therefore ready to be aroused again) could be the ultimate turn-on.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the man in question is a sex symbol. Spain's hunk-in-residence Eduardo Noriega ("Open Your Eyes") plays Graham, an amnesiac copy-machine operator in a Parisian office who writes memos all over the wall to keep track of his workload and dangles a notebook from his wrist that tells him how to get home.

On the one hand, functioning in normal society is difficult for Graham; yet on the other, he has absolutely no trouble getting laid. His boss Sabine (Nathalie Richard) invites him to her darkened office every day after work (S&M porn equipment neatly laid out on the desk), and Irene (Anna Mouglalis), the new temp in the accounting department, latches onto him from day one. Irene is initially drawn to Graham's good looks, but when she discovers his memory defect, she falls headlong in love.

The big allure for Irene is that Graham can't remember how he made love to her the last time, and therefore, he can engage in sex "without past or routine." Irene loves the fact that each night in bed is a new adventure. And because they talk very little, their conversations never run the risk of falling into a familiar pattern. As Irene becomes obsessed with Graham, she begins to long for a stronger bond. She resorts to writing her name on his bare torso, or launching into ever more stimulating ways to have sex, hoping that some of it will trigger his mind into remembering her as his lover, rather than just a gorgeous woman he picked up somewhere and will part from, soon.

The theme here is female desire and the different forms it takes -- Mouglalis, currently known as one of Europe's most sought-after models and Chanel's new fashion ambassador, is stunning as a woman conflicted by her obsessive desire for Graham as well as the realization that they can never be true, committed lovers. Irene oscillates between her conviction that commitment will only spoil the romance of a relationship and her need to become a fixture in Graham's life.

Fiction and film has addressed this dilemma before, but never as stylishly as in "Novo." Just as Graham is the New Man, so Irene is the New Woman who initiates, then controls her relationships guided solely by her physical desires. And when she seeks to "cure" Graham, she never makes any attempts on his mind. It's always on his body that she strives to make some lasting impact -- being sensual herself, she knows instinctively that memory can be stored just as well by the body and the skin, as in the brain.

Interestingly, the male point of view is omitted from all this. Indeed, Limosin presents Graham and his relationships as strangely immune from the angst that usually accompanies memory loss. In Graham's own words, he "lives purely in the moment." Unencumbered by daily concerns, liberated from social bonds and obligations, Graham goes from day to day and situation to situation with the innocent eagerness of a young foal, whether it's having chance sex in a car or drinking water from a brook.

Suddenly and inexplicably, he recalls that he has an 11-year-old son, Antwoine (Leny Bueno), who has been trailing his father from a distance. His reunion with the boy is ecstatic, but brief. On a beach early one morning, they strip, talk and turn somersaults. Then Graham returns to his state of oblivion and Antwoine resigns himself to being once more a stranger to his father.

If Graham's disorder has been painful for his family, the film never dwells on it: Rather, both Graham's wife, Isabelle (Paz Vega), as well as Antwoine, are eventually inspired by Graham's constant renewal and reinvention of himself, to do the same themselves, to keep moving and opening themselves up to new possibilities.

As for Irene, she keeps coming up with new excuses to run into Graham and continue their romance. The plot is sketchy at best (often nonexistent), but Limosin, like Graham, is not interested in coherence. "Novo" is best viewed as a series of eloquent vignettes that enable us to escape, if only temporarily, the tyranny of the information and data filed away daily in our brains with little regard for the toll it takes on our senses.

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