2½ stars (out of four)
The Quebecois theater artist Robert Lepage, whose best stage work casts a visually seductive spell, first presented "La Face Cachee de la Lune" (" Far Side of the Moon") in 2000 as a solo piece. The writer-director showed himself off in a dual role, as wary brothers struggling to make peace and some kind of friendship in the wake of their mother's death.
In 2003, Lepage turned "Moon" into a high-definition video feature, which today opens for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It features the needle-nosed, plaintively affecting Lepage in the roles of Philippe, the eternal struggling doctoral student obsessed with the U.S./Soviet space race, and Andre, a TV weatherman with whom he has precious little in common, except a recently deceased parent.
Like many stage-to-screen projects "Moon" loses something in the journey from the planet Theater to the planet High-Def Video. Yet Lepage is such an interesting camera subject, you stick with this dreamy rumination even when the going gets arch.
In between unsuccessful attempts to defend his doctoral thesis, Philippe works as a telemarketer selling newspaper subscriptions. His life is a lonely and limited one, ruled by his longing for what lies on the side of the moon not visible to Earth. His life has been one of space exploration, thwarted. As a child he passed out (due to a tumor behind one eye) at the very moment of the first moon landing.
History repeats itself: Unexpectedly called to Russia to deliver his theories of space exploration and narcissism to a team of experts, he makes the trip, is taken to his drab hotel room, forgets to set his clock to Russian time--and misses the presentation completely. Yet there is more to life than such crushing setbacks. Back in Quebec, forced to rely on each other, Philippe and Andre become not bosom pals but at least brothers overcoming their longstanding cold war.
Some of Lepage's parallelisms (the two sides of the moon reflecting the two brothers' personalities) worked better on stage in all likelihood, and not all the visual strokes come off. When Philippe finally goes for a symbolic space walk (an effect that was reportedly dazzling on stage, done with mirrors), the effect is charmingly clunky. Yet Lepage, whose "Dragon's Trilogy," among others, played Chicago years ago and thrilled many a playgoer, is aware of this; he isn't interested in fabulous special effects. In "Moon," his fifth feature, he proves particularly adept with his leading actors, who both happen to be himself.
`Far Side of the Moon'
Opens Friday and continues through Jan. 12 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Running time: 1:45. No MPAA rating (adult language and mature discussions).Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times