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Friday, Nov. 20, 2009

'Loft'

Five cheating men and a dead girl in the attic


It's probably easy to make a complete hash out of something like "Loft" — five men share a loft purely for the purpose of enjoying their mistresses until one evening the bloodied, nude body of a young woman is left on the bed, her wrist handcuffed to a bedpost.

Loft Rating: (4 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
Up to their neck: Filip Peeters, Koen De Graeve, Matthias Schoenaerts and Bruno Vanden Broucke in "Loft" © 2008 WOESTIJNVIS NV

Director: Erik Van Looy
Running time: 118 minutes
Language: Flemish
Opens Nov. 20, 2009
[See Japan Times movie listing]

One by one the chums turn up with their keys grinning with expectation for the night and . . . holy cow! What's that?! You almost expect Michael Douglas to come striding in, and surely Sharon Stone can't be very far from the premises. The whole thing is heavily coated with 1990s patina, undercut with the smell of money, kinky sex and urban real estate. All entertaining yes, but ultimately wearing. Late 20th century cinema had been there and done that, more or less to death. So what else is new?

Belgian filmmaker Erik Van Looy turns a ubiquitous formula into a tantalizing concoction resembling fine old scotch, served from a designer tumbler.

Everything about the movie is snidely sophisticated and back-off inaccessible; from the designer threads worn with oh-so-casual flair by the cast, to the loft itself that could be an interior designer's wet dream — a swank hideaway tucked among the mystical churches and mean skyscrapers of a chic European city. And unlike the Douglas-inhabited Hollywood vehicles with their expansive, market-conscious hearts, "Loft" isn't concerned with niceties. Take the conversation between two white men ogling a tall African beauty walking across the room: "Look at that. I could follow that one into the jungle right now." This, in hearing distance of his blond, attractive wife who strides over and delivers a warning, but who is actually engaged in her own extramarital activities.

It takes a movie like "Loft" to bring home how far the married state has evolved in Europe (cinematically speaking) — while in the United States, women characters are still tearing their hair out over holy matrimony or about to sprout brain tumors over trivialities like adultery (but American TV is far more adventurous in this sense). None of the characters in "Loft" are overly concerned with fidelity (their own or their wives') and once they discover the body in their secret digs, aren't about to take on the burden of guilt. Only psychiatrist Chris (Koen De Bouw) gives an indication of inner angst. The most likable of the five men, Chris never broadcasts his conquests over drinks in a noisy bar like everyone else and has just one affair: with the elusive and foxy Anna (Veerle Baetens) whom he meets at a networking party. Aside from the pudgy, good-natured Luc (Bruno Vanden Broucke), Chris is the only one to approach the dead woman to find out her identity, while the other three cower in the background.

Contrasting nicely to Chris's decent-guy demeanor is Vincent (Filip Peeters), a smoothie sleazoid whose idea it was to share the loft in the first place. Vincent has so many women it's hard for him to keep track; aside from his most recent acquisition Sarah (Marie Vinick), he's secretly sleeping with Marnix's (Koen De Graeve) wife as well as Filip's (Matthias Schoenaerts) sister and is about to make the moves on half a dozen other beauties. Vincent uses the loft so much you can't help but wonder whether his share of the rent is higher — it's only fair. But then no one wants to admit they use the place less often than Vincent. In one electrically charged (and hilarious) scene, the five men argue heatedly about who's the most frequent user, based on the telltale evidence of adventurous pleasure left behind.

Meanwhile, the body on the bed grows colder as suspicious paranoia enters the loft with the subtlety of an uninvited guest. The men suddenly realize how little they really know about each other and with only five keys in existence, the certainty that one of them is the culprit. There's no need for a Sharon Stone-like figure to inflict damage on male solidarity here — they're at each other's jugulars in no time without femme fatale assistance, thank you very much. As for poor Michael Douglas, he probably wouldn't last 10 minutes in their company.


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