Movie review: 'Hotel'

EntertainmentMoviesHotel and Accommodation IndustryHotels and AccommodationsFilm FestivalsThe Duchess (movie)Salma Hayek

2 stars (out of 4)

"Hotel" might be best described as the art-house version of "Cannonball Run."True, writer/director Mike Figgis keeps his action confined in one city (Venice) as Burt Reynolds, John Malkovich, Lucy Liu and others pop out of the woodwork in this parody of pretentious art films.

But beware: Pretensions permeate "Hotel," which, as a movie about movies, is the cinematic equivalent of a humor column in The Hollywood Reporter. Using a loose story framework, Figgis follows a volatile production company attempting to film "The Duchess of Malfi," led by manic director Trent Stoken (Rhys Ifans of "Notting Hill") and embattled producer Jonathan Danderfine (David Schwimmer). Meanwhile, infidelity and cannibalism brew in the background, supported by a creepy hotel crew.

Figgis uses digital video cameras to experiment with format and to lampoon Lars von Trier ("Dancer in the Dark") and his fellow Dogma 95 directors, a collective making film under Dogma's "vow of chastity" - on-location shooting only, the use of handheld cameras, no contrived violence.

Salma Hayek, an alum of Figgis' riveting "Timecode," even shows up early in the film to needle the director for using "no good lighting" - a reference to Dogma 95's tenet of "no artificial movie lighting."

So ambitious is Figgis' mockery that he installs not one but two films within "Hotel" - the production of "The Duchess of Malfi" and a behind-the-scenes documentary of the proceedings, led by a flamboyantly obnoxious journalist (Hayek). As in "Timecode," Figgis employs the quad-screen device to convey simultaneous action from four vantage points. He doesn't stay married to the format and, in fact, displays no stylistic fidelity all, shuffling through nearly a dozen screen compositions, from split-screen to circular "night vision" arrangements.

David Lynch ("Mulholland Drive") even gets an atmospheric nod, if not an outright stylistic swipe, as Figgis saddles his hotel servants with strange hairdos and even more bizarre sexual fetishes. Often, their eyes glow like cats in the dark, subterranean sections of the hotel. In one scene, a young maid (Valentina Cervi) does topless pushups into champagne glasses filled with milk. At times, Figgis can be provocative and mesmerizing, as in nearly every "movie" scene in his "Duchess of Malfi" adaptation. As the title character, Saffron Burrows ("Enigma") provides such emotional, taut performances that we wish Figgis would just abandon his satire and stick to "Malfi." In another sublime sequence, Trent lies on the floor, his face bisected by the bottom of the screen, while his actors flutter around him, sped up and pixilated into tiny dancing squares of color - perhaps a precursor to dancing Legos in the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl" video.

Shot in 2000 and screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001, "Hotel" has been homeless for a while. Releasing it so closely to Figgis' lukewarm "Cold Creek Manor" suggests that its distributors are hoping to capitalize on the director's recent exposure. But the two films are so vastly disparate, so apples-and-oranges, that such a plan might backfire, if it registers any effect at all.

Then again, dealing with such esoteric, heady material is difficult enough - and made a greater challenge when "Hotel" serves as a parody of not only art films but. ultimately, itself.

"Hotel"
Written and directed by Mike Figgis; photographed by Figgis, Patrick Alexander Stewart; production design by Franco Fumagalli; produced by Figgis, Annie Stewart, Ernst Stroh; music by Figgis, Anthony Marinelli. An Innovation Film Group and Moonstone Entertainment release; opens Friday, Sept. 26. Running time: 1:33. No MPAA rating (strong language, male and female nudity, violence and cannibalism).
Duchess of Malfi - Saffron Burrows
Jonathan Danderfine - David Schwimmer
Charlee Boux - Salma Hayek
Trent Stoken - Rhys Ifans
Hotel maid - Valentina Cervi

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
EntertainmentMoviesHotel and Accommodation IndustryHotels and AccommodationsFilm FestivalsThe Duchess (movie)Salma Hayek
  • Make a night of it

    Find: • Recommended dining • Recommended bars

Comments
Loading